Newt Gingrich In Iowa: He Has Repented, But Will He Be Forgiven?

WASHINGTON -- Six months ago, Rick Tyler quit Newt Gingrich cold turkey. He left the former speaker's entourage after 12 years of serving as his spokesman -- part of a mass exodus of campaign aides who had decided that Gingrich was not only unmanageable but unelectable. Now he and Gingrich are allies again.

That's news because Tyler can help Gingrich with a constituency he desperately needs to win over in the Iowa caucuses: evangelical Christians.

Tyler quit at a time when the candidate seemed self-destructive at best. Gingrich had taken cruises instead of campaigned, refused to assemble a ground game in key states, and seemed more focused on spending money on his wife's jewelry than spending time raising contributions for 2012. Among those who left was campaign adviser David Carney, who soon resurfaced as the key adviser to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign.

"We got buried in an avalanche," said Tyler. "I kind of lost perspective. I didn't think Newt could dig out. But I was wrong."

And here is the kicker: Six months after Tyler quit the Gingrich campaign, the former aide is in a position to help his former boss with a crucial constituency -- evangelical Christians -- as a top adviser to a Christian activist movement called The Response. Six months ago, The Response drew 30,000 conservative Christians to a rally in Houston. The star of that show was Perry, then at the beginning of a meteoric rise that has since crashed to earth.

On Dec. 6 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, The Response will hold its next event. As in Houston, Tyler is a key organizer, adviser and publicist. Although all the GOP candidates are invited, and several are changing their schedules to get there, the one most likely to benefit could be the man Tyler used to work for.

Whatever else he does in Iowa, Gingrich needs as many chances as he can get to tell his personal story -- the mistakes, shall we say, and efforts at redemption -- before a crowd of evangelicals. In the state's 2008 caucuses, evangelicals comprised an estimated 40 percent of GOP caucus goers. Gingrich will get that chance again on Dec. 6.

As if in prelude to that event, an influential group of Iowa evangelicals called the Family Leader named the four GOP candidates that it could potentially endorse. Most significantly, one of them was Gingrich, despite the "personal baggage" he carries from his three marriages and hypocritical infidelity during the time he was leading the drive to impeach President Bill Clinton.

"Evangelicals believe in the idea of forgiveness," said Tyler, "and that may go for Newt." Gingrich has been frank about his past transgressions, Tyler noted. He seems to be happily married to his third wife, Callista (the jewelry recipient). He has also converted to Catholicism, a move that Tyler and others said will not cost him among evangelical Protestants, who have increasingly made common cause with conservative Catholics on issues such as abortion.

Tyler met recently with 400 pastors in Iowa to encourage them to step up their discussion of political events and to give "election sermons" about topics of the day. Gingrich was one of those invited to speak to the ministers. Tyler is also working on voter registration drives in evangelical churches.

The next stop is Cedar Rapids, where more than a thousand are expected to gather to hear GOP candidates. It will be another reunion between Gingrich and his once-estranged spokesman. "At the event with the pastors, Newt called out to me in the crowd and said very nice things," Tyler recalled. "He didn't have to do that, but he did."

In fact, Newt did have to do that, and it was a shrewd thing to do.