Why Gingrich matters: Idea merchant for changing times

Let's forget the days of missed opportunites in the 1990s when Gingrich put all his cards on the table in the move to impeach Bill Clinton. Let's also forget that Gingrich was on the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac train wreck. Let's take a good look at the man's ability to generate new ideas. According to Politico, Gingrich is plotting some kind of comeback. I don't think Gingrich is presidential material since a large chunk of the electoral wants to move beyond the sometimes nasty gridlock politics of the last decade of the 20th century. Still the GOP's major idea merchant deserves a seat at the table. What might the Contract with American 2.0 look like?

Throughout his time in Congress, Gingrich was lauded for his ability to run the outside track, but struggled when sitting on the throne. “His particular skills are probably best suited for that opposition role,” says the Brooking Institute’s Tom Mann.

Instead, Gingrich should try “to lead his party out of the wilderness, rather than trying to help it maintain control.” Famous during his speakership for the bionic speed with which he devised policy proposals, Gingrich is even more prolific these days with a BlackBerry in tow. He constantly thumbs out messages to a list of congressional Republicans, linking to an article recently read or a thought that just came to him.

“He has 10 ideas an hour, and six of them may be brilliant, two may be decent, and two you don’t agree with,” says Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Looking ahead to the new Democratic-dominated Congress, Ryan sees Gingrich's role in the party only expanding. “We need to go to leaders who have demonstrated ability to put together big movements for our party,” he says.

Currently, “Newt-world” consists of 64 staffers spread across Gingrich's varied ivory-tower billets: the American Enterprise Institute, where he’s a senior fellow; American Solutions, where he’s general chairman; the Center for Health Transformation, which he founded; and the eponymous Gingrich Communications.

In addition, Gingrich has an e-mail list of 1.1 million supporters, a weekly online newsletter read by 820,000 people and a contract with Fox News. He’s got 4,825 Facebook friends.

That's certainly a good network to start repairing the GOP brand. While others have yet to come up with a sound basis for regaining political power, Newt dominates the field. The old is new again.

Gingrich critic and Republican strategist John Feehery says that “Newt abhors a vacuum. … If the party had its own ideas, it wouldn’t need Newt Gingrich.” Gingrich himself acknowledges the inverse relationship between his party’s fortunes and his post-congressional prominence.

About Karl Marx

Left wing libertarian conservative.