Newt for President. No, it's not coming from his own mouth, but the buzz has started. And for those who might pooh-pooh the very idea, take this as fair warning: Underestimating Newt Gingrich is a big mistake.
As a Gingrich disciple in the early '80s, I traveled with longtime Republican consultant Bob Weed to the Reagan White House. There, we presented political concepts that the little-known Newt and the rest of us felt were essential for the president's domestic agenda. Among them was an idea I felt embarrassed even to discuss -- a tax credit for families who bought one of the new consumer frills known as personal computers. White House staffers doubtless got a laugh over that one. Not un-typically, however, the world is no longer laughing at that Gingrich concept, or at any of his others.
Similarly, Gingrich would later be branded as a wide-eyed political bomb-thrower for forcing Jim Wright out as U.S. House speaker. And Newt barely survived consecutive re-election bids in the early '90s in his home state of Georgia. Who could blame those in Washington for not foreseeing that an innovative band of congressional brethren would transform Gingrich's self-proclaimed "Conservative Opportunity Society" into a "Contract with America"? More, we were quietly planning the astonishing political coup that ended in the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, and thus Gingrich's taking of the speaker's gavel.
Yes, Newt sometimes lacked for public relations charm in his years of stratospheric power. The media loved to stain his new glory by coining images of him as a spoiled brat or a mean-spirited egghead. They made an international incident of his being relegated to "the back of the bus" on President Clinton's Air Force One. (The real story was that Gingrich never complained about his assigned seat or the door through which he exited the plane. Instead, he was upset that he and Clinton had squandered valuable time they could have used to work on the serious federal budget crisis.)
The so-called "government shutdown" that resulted from the budget stalemate was pinned completely on Speaker Gingrich; one national magazine even portrayed him as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. In reality, no American went without during that shutdown. Besides, the current spendthrift Congress and White House might do well to entertain a little budget "shutting down" themselves.