We gathered in a small dining room in the very same hotel where Newt Gingrich claimed control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 -- just a few former and current staff, friends and supporters of Gingrich's American Solutions initiative, set to kick off on Thursday. There was a sense that something big was about to happen -- but what?
Hours after what turned out to be a very nonpolitical gathering of intimates, I was still wondering what truly lies ahead for Gingrich.
All of the official talk had been about that which has the potential to be a shockingly large national interactive series of workshops exploring "new approaches" to problems ranging from healthcare to security, yet the conversation was sprinkled with references to the reaction to Gingrich in states such as Iowa, Michigan and the like.
Careful not to mix presidential politics with the Solutions agenda, Gingrich praised the initiative's organizers and spoke once again of the start of "something truly historic" and "a true movement."
Indeed, by all accounts it appears that the former Speaker once again shocked his detractors with a rollout of his movement that included nationally syndicated talk show hosts Neal Boortz, Sean Hannity and Bill Bennett. That said, the true and unspoken buzz among Gingrich's closest friends and co-workers centered on what might follow the conclusion of the American Solutions workshop this weekend.
In a rather bizarre move, Gingrich announced earlier this week that his longtime attorney and friend, Randy Evans, would begin seeking pledges toward a potential Gingrich candidacy for the GOP nomination. Readers of this column will recall that I predicted some six months ago that the Hamlet of the Republican Party -- to run or not to run -- would indeed enter the presidential sweepstakes.
But the former Speaker was as strangely coy about what the "$30 million search" means as he has been about any number of political ventures -- some hugely successful, others less so.
Yet it is clear the presidency is now very much on Newt Gingrich's mind, and that he remains convinced that none of the candidates in the current field has captured the imagination of the Party.
Based on the laughs, winks and nods, it's my guess that the $30 million criteria is nothing more than either a self-fulfilling platform by which to claim a mandate or a good excuse to wait for a showdown with Hillary Clinton in four years. Either way, it's pure theater. After all, who can verify "pledges" to a candidacy?
The real question is whether Fred Thompson will continue to belly flop in his appearances and start to lag in polls, such as the recently released survey of New Hampshire that showed even John McCain leading the former Senator/actor. If that happens by late October, it's my guess that Gingrich's pledge collector will pull the old Jerry Lewis Telethon routine of meeting the magic number just in time.
Personally, I thought it silly for Gingrich, who eschewed any candidacy for weeks, to suddenly dangle out the possibility of running just as his 527 effort, which has caught criticism for being an indirect presidential campaign, was coming to fruition. And you can bet that if he does enter the race, it won't take John McCain five minutes to launch his attack on what he will claim to have been a backdoor entry into the presidential contest. Yet, the dangling of a true potential race for president clearly boosted national interest in the American Solutions program.
At least on the eve of the event and if only in words, Gingrich seemed all about the American Solutions movement. Still, there was an energy among his old friends. And it smelled of the coming of a campaign. Only time will tell if Newt Gingrich is the smartest of them all, or if instead has outsmarted himself.
Gingrich's answer is already clear. "I am about changing America, Towery," he said weeks ago. "It really doesn't matter how we get things changed; it's just making the change that matters."