The Newtster: He's Baaaack!

Dear Newt:

Welcome back. Glad to see you're back in the limelight, right behind Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential polls.

I've missed you since we last touched base in 2003. That's when I was still somebody as editor of The Hill, and wrote one of my many columns about you (headline: "The Newtster: He's baaaack!").

That was long after you were forced out as Speaker of the House by Tom DeLay and Lindsay Graham and Bill Paxon (remember him?) and other GOP insurgents in 1998, which is why I said I owe you, big time, because we broke that story, which helped make The Hill a must-read for political junkies after we started up four years earlier, just before you became the first Republican Speaker in 40 years.

After all, you gave many of our best stories -- and me some of my best columns -- as you rallied the Republicans and discombobulated the Democrats with your Contract with America and a host of other innovative initiatives that made you the most talked-about politician in Washington in the late 1990s. You even forced President Clinton to publicly declare that he wasn't irrelevant, thereby proving he was.

As I wrote at the time, shortly before Time magazine named you 1995 Man of the Year, you were no longer just a bomb-throwing back bencher but a visionary who comes up with 10 new ideas every day, even if one critic -- actually, it was me -- said nine of them are goofy and one is brilliant.

"You can say what you want about Gingrich, but you have to give him his due," I wrote. "He is a man of vision and ambition who knows how to use and acquire power. He may yet prove himself the most powerful Speaker since Sam Rayburn. And unlike the secretive, stoic Texan, he is exciting to watch."

Too exciting, it turned out. In the summer of 1997, you gave us the bombshell story that put us on the journalistic map, the failed GOP revolt to depose you. It was great political theater, even though it was a disaster for you. Actually, things had already started to come apart in 1995 with the embarrassing "Cry Baby Newt" headlines when you whined about having to ride in coach class on Air Force One to the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

In the fall of 1996, I was comparing you to Napoleon leading his battered army back from Moscow, cannons spiked and troops demoralized, after the House ethics committee investigated charges that you improperly financed a college course you once taught. Then, after the Republican Revolution ran out of steam in 1998, you were forced to step down.

That was before it was revealed that you were carrying on an affair with a House staffer, whom you later married after divorcing your wife, even while calling for Bill Clinton's impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and before a half dozen other things that caused you to wipe political egg off your face.

We don't need to go into that again, but the fact is that you have a knack for touching off huge political controversies, which is why you're one of my favorite politicians. As I wrote way back in 1998, "Gingrich has impressive strengths as a campaigner and fundraiser, and can clearly organize and fund a serious presidential bid if he decides to."

You're proving that again as you resurrect your hopes of helping Republicans recapture the White House, and maybe control of Congress by winning the Senate, as well. Whether that's good for America, I don't know. But it's a great story for us journalists. Newt, it's great to have you back.