Newt Redux

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The former House Speaker (and TIME’s 1995 Man of the Year) seems to be everywhere these days, including on the cover of last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. But I really got a flashback when I saw his full-page ad this morning in the Wall Street Journal, citing 12 AMERICAN SOLUTIONS FOR JOBS AND PROSPERITY, and listing the names of of 659 donors, who are mostly small businesspeople, spokesman Dan Kotman tells me. (I can’t find a link to the ad itself, but here are the 12 ideas.)

It looked an awful lot like the old Contract with America, which, while it left something to be desired in implementation, proved to be a pretty effective campaign tool in helping the GOP win the House in 1994. And when I caught up with Gingrich, he said the similarity is entirely intentional. “It’s sort of the economic contract,” he told me. “There are other pieces coming down the road. … We were thinking about what we would do if [Obama's economic stimulus] fails, which it will.” At this point, Gingrich told me, he has collected 1.2 million email addresses and has 155,000 donors for his effort, which started last spring with his “Drill here, drill now, pay less” campaign.

I’m skeptical whether Gingrich will ever again enter electoral politics as a candidate, but at a time when the GOP is experiencing something of an intellectual vacuum, he is someone to watch. (As opposed to all this reactionary kabuki with Rush Limbaugh.) As Matt Bai wrote in the New York Times Magazine:

It is a fortuitous collision of man and moment. Having ceded the agenda to a Republican president for the past eight years (and having mostly obsessed over White House scandals for much of the decade before that), Republicans now find that they have strikingly little to say that isn’t entirely reactive — or reactionary. “It was like ‘The Matrix,’ when Keanu Reeves wakes up and his eyes hurt because he hasn’t used them,” David Winston, a pollster for House Republicans, told me recently, talking about the 2006 election that relegated Republicans to the minority for the first time since 1994. “We just didn’t know how to do ideas anymore.” Whatever else you think of Gingrich, he has always been considered a prospector in bold and counterintuitive thinking — floating ideas, throughout his career, that have ranged from giving every poor child a laptop to abolishing the entire concept of adolescence.