Remember Newt Gingrich’s college course? The one his enemies called a tax scam? Now that the IRS has cleared him, will those enemies admit they were wrong? No way. But Gingrich could still have the last laugh.
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There are already signs he is thinking about just that. Party insiders expect Gingrich to work hard and travel extensively to campaign for Republican congressional candidates in 2000. “In the last two months of that election, he’ll be all over the country trying to elect House Republicans,” says another well-connected Republican. “That’s what Nixon did in ‘66.”
And Gingrich will do much more than simply lead cheers. He is by far the biggest fundraiser in the Republican lineup. In the 1998 election cycle, he made more than 400 campaign appearances in more than 200 cities in 48 states, raising millions of dollars for the party. That drawing power will be another key to his rehabilitation.
“I honestly believe that if the Republicans do not win the White House,” the well-connected Republican continues, “the morning after the election, Newt Gingrich will be the leading candidate for the election in 2004 — whether he wants it or not.”
Such a notion runs dramatically counter to the conventional wisdom. A recent New York Times Magazine article reported that “the retrospective view inside the party is that Gingrich is at the heart of practically everything that went wrong in the last few years.” While that is a dramatic overstatement, there are real problems with the Nixon Scenario—not the least of which is Gingrich himself.
“It’s plausible,” says yet another Republican who knows Gingrich well, “but I think the question is whether the mistakes he made as speaker were a learning experience for him or rather were evidence of some immutable aspects of his personality. That’s something you only learn with time.”
In the meantime, Gingrich is staying above the fray—and making money. After leaving Congress with virtually no net worth—that S300,000 fine didn’t help—he is now making speeches at $50,000 per appearance. He has also joined a few corporate boards and is considering other business opportunities.
Whatever he does in the short run, it seems likely that Gingrich will attempt some sort of political comeback, because it is simply impossible for him to stop being Newt Gingrich. “His mind hasn’t stopped racing,” says one Republican who knows him well. And Gingrich’s mind races faster than anyone else’s in the party. It’s easy to make fun of his ideas—a game that’s probably more popular among Republicans than Democrats—but it’s hard to deny that Gingrich has ideas. Who are his rivals in that department? Dennis Hastert? Steve Largent? Any of those currently pursuing the Republican presidential nomination? It’s not even close.
And now he is free of one potential handicap. The IRS report makes official what should have been clear all along: that the ethics jihad against Gingrich was just politics, and dirty politics at that. Should Gingrich re-emerge as a political force, his enemies will no doubt try again—but the next time, perhaps, the political world will look at their charges with a more critical eye.
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