How Newt Gingrich Won 2012

Gingrich is seriously considering CNN's Crossfire reboot.

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Olivier Douliery / ABACAUSA

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announces the suspension of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination as his wife Callista looks on May 2, 2012 in Arlington, Va.

Newt is back. His book business has been revitalized, he’s throwing himself onto the speaking circuit, and he’s a once and possibly future regular talking head on television.

Well into his fourth decade in American politics — and almost a year to the day since dropping out of the 2012 Republican primary  — Newton Leroy Gingrich shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, Gingrich, 69, is making losing a presidential campaign look a lot like a victory.

Speaking to TIME between sending tweets and meeting with voters on a “thank you” tour this week in South Carolina — the only competitive state he won during the 2012 Republican primaries — Gingrich said his post-presidential life has been “exhilarating.”

“The campaign was a very extraordinary and exhausting experience for both of us, but this is different,” he says, referring to his wife Callista. “Where that kept you tired and focused on trying to get to the next event, this is about opening yourself up and solving problems.”

And there’s nothing that Gingrich doesn’t love more than solving problems. “I get a big emotional kick out of it,” he adds.

That’s not to say everything went well in 2012. In addition to losing the nomination, his campaign remains $4.6 million in the red, and the once-prosperous assortment of companies known as Newt, Inc are bankrupt. But the ever-reinventing Gingrich is back with a plan centered around Gingrich Productions, the firm he founded with Callista to serve as the clearinghouse for his creative and media ventures.

Last month Gingrich founded the super PAC “Committee for America” to raise money for both his indebted presidential campaign and American Legacy Political Action Committee, the new organization he founded to support conservative local and state politicians. It hasn’t benefited his old campaign yet — which counts Newt Gingrich among its creditors to the tune of nearly $650,000 — and nearly all of the $121,000 in revenue last quarter came from renting out his email list.

One vehicle for his reinvention is Newt University — the oft-mocked online school founded at the Republican National Convention after Mitt Romney wouldn’t give him a speaking slot. Gingrich is hoping to educate the world about technological changes like self-driving cars and Mars exploration — passions he put on display during his campaign when he laid out a vision for a moon colony.

Gingrich also believes he’s identified the problem with Washington: “It’s pioneers of the future vs. prisoners of the past,” Gingrich explains. “There’s extraordinary creativity underway in science, technology and entrepreneurship, but the political process is just so out of sync with it.” Gingrich hopes to use the Newt University to help prospective Republican lawmakers be similarly visionary. And it’s the subject of his next book, due out in the fall.

He’s also on the speaking circuit — facing off with former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at Penn State University last week. True to form, he detoured to check out the school’s “Lunar Lion” — its entrant into the Google Lunar X-Prize science competition. “It’s a groundbreaking project,” he gushes, “all for one-tenth of what it would cost NASA.” Then there’s the new movie project, “God Loves You: The Life of Billy Graham,” a documentary about the iconic evangelist.

Over the weekend, Newt and Callista attended the White House Correspondents Dinner as guests of CNN. The following day he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” — his second appearance since the start of the year. He’s been on CNN nearly a dozen times since January, and even scored a cameo appearance on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”

The traditional ladder by which people rise in Washington, running for office, is essentially no longer available to Gingrich — advisers admit as much even as the man himself remains coy. So Gingrich is trying to turn one part Al Gore, one part Oprah — working to build a broad empire to regain and expand his influence.

POLITICO fingered Gingrich as the potential co-host of a revived “Crossfire” on CNN, the much-maligned current events debating show famously skewered by Jon Stewart in 2004.

Just how serious are the Crossfire talks? “Serious enough that I feel comfortable telling you about it,” Gingrich says. Will Stephanie Cutter join? “You’ve got to ask CNN,” he says. A CNN spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He admits he’s tantalized by the prospect of a regular slot on television to discuss “serious issues.”

“People forget but for the first 10 years it was a very serious program,” he says of the Tom Braden and Pat Buchanan years. “I remember doing it as a junior member — it was a real workout. It was a destination for people to hear both sides discuss serious issues in an entertaining way.”

Musing about potential topics, Gingrich says, “the controversy over the FAA and even Syria would be great Crossfire.”

“We could have a leader in the field of regenerative medicine talk about how the FDA is blocking his or her research, then have a debate about reforming the FDA. That would be a good example of a serious show I want to do.”