- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Two factors are at work in Newt Gingrich’s multiple Lazarus-like political resurrections: his almost infinite capacity for bold, new conservative ideas, and a unique skill at communicating them that is unrivaled among his party opponents.

For all the backbiting by his former 1990s House Republican colleagues, had it not been for Mr. Gingrich, most of them would still likely be nameless backbenchers. That’s because it was Mr. Gingrich who was most responsible for propelling the Republicans’ historic takeover of the House in 1994 and much of their success afterward.

True, Mr. Gingrich can be maddeningly arrogant, and he’s made enemies along the way. It takes a certain degree of grandiosity to envision taking over the United States House of Representatives, and you can’t herd cats without getting scratched. That’s exactly what happened when Mr. Gingrich somehow coaxed every 1994 GOP House candidate into signing his “Contract With America,” then got them to enact its provisions in their first months in office.

Once in power, Mr. Gingrich leveraged the document, making it ultimately more useful to him as a tool of party discipline than it had ever been as a campaign device, since the contract was far more frequently featured in 1994 Democratic campaign ads than in Republican ones.

After nearly two decades, it’s easy to forget the boldness of the conservative, free-market approaches contained in the clauses of Mr. Gingrich’s contract.

Among those ideas was welfare reform. Mr. Gingrich steered it through both Houses of Congress three separate times before an exhausted Bill Clinton finally signed it. Today, even Democrats hail welfare reform as one of the singular successes of the Clinton presidency.

Ditto balancing the budget, which was brought about not by the tax hikes in Mr. Clinton’s first two years, but instead because of hard-fought adjustments in entitlement spending growth engineered by the Gingrich-led House.

By spearheading enactment of telecommunications reform and streamlining the leaden bureaucracy of the Food and Drug Administration, Mr. Gingrich and House Republicans tore up more federal regulations than Ronald Reagan ever dreamed of. In the process, Congress unleashed revolutions in communications and medicine that are reverberating even today, creating untold thousands of American jobs in fields that we still cannot yet imagine.

Hard as it is to comprehend now, back in those days Republicans prided themselves as being “the ideas party.” Most of those ideas originated with Newt Gingrich - though admittedly, not all of them were good. His staff is reputed to have once given the speaker two elaborately gift-wrapped boxes, one large and one small: Inside the big one was a slip of paper that said, “Newt’s Ideas,” while in the tiny box, a note read, “Newt’s GOOD Ideas.”

Still, what’s propelling Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy today is his endless capacity for vision: the advancement of big, bold, free-market approaches to the nation’s challenges.

Yet good ideas are available by the dozen in Washington: Just ask any think tank or congressional staffer, or log on to any one of a thousand websites. It takes a far different skill set to communicate those ideas in a way that will crystallize them in people’s minds, and to navigate the even more difficult task of orchestrating their transformation into policy. Mr. Gingrich possesses both abilities, as his political resurrections (such as last weekend in South Carolina) prove.

Mr. Gingrich - like Sarah Palin, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama - is one of those unique personages in modern politics whose face alone causes channel-surfers to pause, if only for a moment. Love him or hate him, Mr. Gingrich has an uncanny gift for making you want to listen to what he says. In an age where nanoseconds of television exposure substitute for reasoned political debate, that’s powerful.

True, there’s another side to the former speaker, an “evil twin” who can’t resist whining about his seating assignment on Air Force One and is compelled to call Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals “right-wing social engineering.”

Whether history ultimately views Mr. Gingrich as a revolutionary genius or a nutty professor will depend on his ability to put “Evil Newt” on ice.

His formidable skills have helped him catch lightning in a bottle. If, as he says, he’s matured and is running for the future of his grandchildren and for his country, it’s given him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to shine light on his visionary, market-oriented solutions in a way that can guide him all the way to the White House. If not, the lightning-filled bottle will blow up in his face - and the party’s.

Mark Pfeifle is a crisis communications consultant, former deputy communication director for the Republican National Committee and communication director for the 2004 GOP convention.

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