Why Newt Gingrich is worth watching

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Image caption Newt Gingrich is known for his intellect but also his messy past personal life

The life cycle of the newt has three distinct phases. Following the pattern of his namesake (more formally known as Pleurodelinae of the family Salamandridae), Mr Gingrich is about to enter a new incarnation. But can a new Newt burst free of all the negatives that have built up over his career and emerge as the man to take on President Barack Obama in 2012?


Newt Gingrich's greatest triumph, his claim to fame, was a profound failure that damaged his party.

Social conservatives are suspicious about the messy end to two of his three marriages.

Critics say he's a hypocrite and his latest defence of his sexual behaviour has seemed risible.

He's by no means alone in his harsh attacks on Mr Obama, but some feel it is too calculated, too crude, for a one-time professor.

But in an uninspiring field, he is at least interesting.

Newt Gingrich became a public figure as leader of the "Republican Revolution" in Congress in 1994 when Bill Clinton was president. He was the main author of the initially highly successful Contract With America. The clashes between the president and the leader of the House over America's budget were full of personal invective and tumbled over the brink into a government shutdown. The public blamed Newt Gingrich and the Republicans suffered.

His pursuit of President Clinton over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky when he himself was having an extramarital affair with an aide followed an early, very messy divorce. Mr Gingrich has recently explained that overwork, and thus his passion for his country, were to blame.

His colourful past provokes commentators to use vivid language. One has observed "Gingrich has more luggage than Louis Vuitton", another that he has "more liabilities than the final Lehman Brothers balance sheet".

Now it seems certain he will stand. He writes on Facebook that he has been "humbled" by the encouragement he has received and urges followers to watch him on Fox. "Be sure to watch Hannity this Wednesday at 9pm ET/8pm CT. I will be on to talk about my run for President of the United States," he says.

It is perhaps typical of the hesitant Republican camp that that even what appears to be the first official announcement is oblique, even coy. But Mr Gingrich is not a shy man and he is a very serious candidate.

He's a Christian conservative intellectual with a populist instinct and a savage tongue, a former history teacher who is a cunning strategist. He is a brilliant organiser. He has built a chain of think tanks and fundraising organisations around himself and an invaluable data base of possible supporters.

He's a big figure in a potential field where other candidates are either exciting but lack credibility or serious but dull. Newt's third stage is worth watching.