Gingrich '08

Posted: Jan 05, 2006 12:05 AM

First, a disclaimer. I was Newt Gingrich's campaign chairman from 1992 until he left the U.S. House of Representatives. We have known each other for almost 30 years.
But anyone who knows the two of us also knows that the former speaker of the House usually ignored any substantive advice I offered him.

 I, in turn, missed out on many of his cutting-edge concepts because I usually made a point of not listening to his many professorial speeches and lectures.

 Newt won't be asking for my advice anytime soon. But I know the man like a book.

 Many in politics may be unsurprised when I say that he will run for president.

 They may be a bit more taken aback to know that I believe he may win the Republican nomination.

 I hear the roars of laughter. This sounds bizarre, I know, but let's set the stage with four things in mind:

 First, remember the story of Richard Nixon's astounding comeback from the political scrap heap.

 Second, let me reiterate the polling results that show -- like it or not -- that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is the odds-on favorite to win her party's nomination for the presidency in 2008.

 Third, understand that there really is a GOP "establishment" and that it has definite Bush leanings. This is the same establishment that sat by in 1996 while the Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole, endured endless attack ads. (Ironically, they linked Dole with Gingrich.)

 Dole never recovered, setting the stage for George W. Bush's emergence in the next election cycle.

 Finally, regardless of President Bush's popularity, or lack of it, when he leaves office in early 2009, there will remain in the wings an attractive and smart potential president who is also named Bush -- current Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

 That scenario probably wouldn't be ripe for 2008, but instead for 2012 or even later.

 But there's a problem for a Jeb ascendancy, and its name is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). And that's where a Gingrich candidacy in '08 suddenly looks more realistic.

 Most public opinion surveys list McCain as the early first choice of Republican voters to be the party's nominee in '08.

 Also according to polls, he is the only Republican who consistently beats Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head contest.

 The worm in the apple of this rosy situation is that the Republican establishment I have identified absolutely despises McCain.

 Why? Because he is independent, outspoken and a war hero. He might actually win, which could fatally loosen the current GOP machine's grip on things. They would rather see McCain go the route of war hero Bob Dole, who lost.

 McCain's problems are not just with the "leadership." He also has a voting record that has sometimes been left of center. He has made a career of giving heartburn to his party and his fellow GOP senators.

 He's actually my kind of candidate -- which is probably the kiss of death for the man.

 Enter Gingrich. He'll likely face a roster of fresh, new faces, such as McCain, Virginia Sen. George Allen, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others.

 But other than McCain, Gingrich will likely be the only candidate to have run for president before.

 You read right. Prior to his quick exit as speaker, the Gingrich organization was gearing up to run for president in 2000.

 Even today, Gingrich's top political guru, Joe Gaylord, has myriad political ties to GOP activists in Iowa, where Gaylord grew up. That's where the road to the White House begins in our electoral system, of course.

 And then there's that little debate Gingrich had with Bill Clinton in New Hampshire years ago. That state is the second leg on the presidential nomination marathon. Let's just say that Newt and his people took a real shining to the place. Ever since, he's more or less camped out there when not speaking or pontificating for big dollars elsewhere.

 The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are quirky events, and quirky things can happen. Ask Jimmy Carter.

 In Iowa, the "new Newt" will be on display. That's the Newt who's now a grandfather. The one that smiles and laughs more than before, and tries hard to be more like "one of the people."

 If he doesn't catch on there, he may in New Hampshire. The contrarian voters there might just go for a "smart guy"" to counter "the smart-but-dangerous" Hillary.

 Remember, too, that Gingrich is the last Republican congressional leader to have spearheaded the passage of a boatload of conservative legislation. Not much has happened in Congress since.

 One upset win for this "unpopular" policy wonk with the successful political past, and it will be off to the primaries in the South. The Georgian Gingrich might establish "home-field advantage" there.

 There are past mistakes, including divorces, for him to contend with. But that's true of others, including McCain, Giuliani and Allen.

 A Gingrich nomination is a long shot, and a Gingrich presidency even more of one.

 But there are signs of a serious Gingrich run already. When the scandal-plagued, Republican-controlled House of Representatives came under fire this week, I noticed that the Associated Press story about how bad the damage to the GOP could be included commentary by none other than a Gingrich protege.

 Is it possible that Newt Gingrich could become the presidential analogy to the film "The Producers," in which a movie production is launched with the intention of failure but instead becomes a hit?

 This much I know for sure: If it happens, I'll know the script before it hits the big screen.

 And I won't be asked to audition.