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Newt Gingrich: From Crusader to Outcast, then Elder Statesman & Republican Front-runner

Updated on December 21, 2011

With its baffling twists and turns, the 2012 election season Republican primary seems destined for the history books. For many, but perhaps most notably Mitt Romney, long considered by GOP establishment interests as heir to the throne, it has been a nightmarish ghoulish game of musical chairs with each round ending with the ascension of a new front-runner.

Apart from Romney, we have seen Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump and Rick Perry at different stops along the way, surge atop the heap only to fizzle and fade into obsolescence almost as quickly as they had surfaced.

Until the unveiling of recent polls indicating that Romney and Newt Gingrich were in a virtual dead heat, Gingrich had actually enjoyed that coveted but ever-changing front-runner status for nearly two weeks---same Gingrich whose campaign imploded earlier in the summer following the mass exit of a dozen senior staffers and key operatives.

Back then, apart from an evident disagreement over basic mechanics (fund-raising approaches, voter outreach, general messaging, etc.), Gingrich had other seemingly irreconcilable differences with his campaign team on what should be the strategic thrust of his bid for the GOP nomination.

But this is certainly not the first time in Gingrich’s chequered political past that his occasionally repressed iconoclastic tendencies or proclivities for self veneration have eclipsed his ambitions.

Most notable, of course, was the string of defining, historic occurrences back in the 1990s that culminated in Gingrich’s service as the 58th Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Gingrich orchestrated both the infamous “Contract with America” and an electoral shellacking that effectively ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House. Under him, Republicans won 54 seats during the congressional elections in November 1994 and regained control of the House for the first time since 1954.

However, Gingrich would be ignobly forced out of office barely four years later over a series of ethics violations but principally because of a leadership style that most of his colleagues grew to view as unsettlingly brash, divisive or impetuous; he had become a liability----a distracting, costly “lightning rod for controversy!”

After two successive Republican electoral losses in 1996 and 1998, rather than face an assured challenge to his leadership, Gingrich opted to resign not just as Speaker but from the House.

Upon leaving Congress, Gingrich launched a host of private business ventures anchored by the Gingrich Group, which he chairs, offering a range of communications and consulting services around “transformational change.”

Over the years, Gingrich wrote or co authored almost two dozen books. He also managed to remain relevant in conservative politics through ongoing affiliations with tertiary right-wing institutions like American Enterprise Institute and by founding his own policy think tanks (American Solutions for Winning the Future, the Center for Health Transformation, etc).

His participation in public policy debates through periodic media appearances and a stint with Fox News as a news/political analyst further cemented his new image as a respectable, reasoned but unapologetic voice for conservative orthodoxy.

Gingrich’s effort at self-reinvention has been undoubtedly remarkable. He successfully transformed himself from the bombastic, polarizing figure he was in the House to the more dignified status of an elder statesman----a pragmatist; a voice of reason or sage who conservatives contentedly turned to for political guidance!

Back in the summer, even as his senior campaign staffers decamped en mass, Gingrich knew that if he persevered, especially given a Republican field that is lack luster at best, primary voters will ultimately be smitten by his new persona. That time finally came when as the debates wore on, he charmed viewers with his strident but cool disposition.

Gingrich is obviously realizing that with front-runner status comes some unique privileges and challenges.

Majority of declared establishment Republicans are still solidly behind Romney; which is a clear indication that many either view Gingrich’s transformation with suspicion or that there are residual recriminations from the past.

Regardless of how well one shows in debates, their ability to bag the nomination ultimately turns on fund-raising, shrewd retail campaigning and a well-lubricated organizational machinery. The fact that Gingrich’s glow finally came barely weeks before the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries may force him into a damning, irrecoverable position on all counts and eventually doom his bid for the Republican nomination for president.

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