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Analysis: Gingrich Wins Political Play Of The Week

By Bill Schneider/CNN


WASHINGTON (April 11) -- Critics have been saying Newt Gingrich's days as House speaker are numbered. "Political road kill" they called him. Well, Congress reconvened this week, and Gingrich had a message for the critics: "I'm back, and I'm bad."

Remember the sheepish Gingrich who admitted wrongdoing to the House ethics committee and then hid from the spotlight for three months afterwards? Gone. Remember the benign Gingrich who invited Jesse Jackson to sit with him at the State of the Union speech, and who met with actor Alec Baldwin to discuss saving the National Endowment for the Arts? Gone! Remember the treacherous Gingrich who seemed to put tax cuts on the back burner last month?

"We think you can get a balanced budget and you can get a tax cut," Gingrich this week told GOPAC, the political action committee he helped form. "We think both can be done this year, and we're trying to find a way to make sure that we have every opportunity to both balance the budget with smaller government, with reforms, and to have tax cuts for the American people."

Gone, all gone.


Gingrich was in serious danger. His job ratings were collapsing. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed just 25 percent of Americans approved of the job Gingrich was doing as speaker, while among conservatives, his approval rating was just 38 percent. Conservatives accused Gingrich of a failure of nerve.

Said Steve Forbes, flat-tax champion and former GOP candidate, "So on the budget, we should get real. We should not act like cowardly lions. We should get our courage back again."

Gingrich's troops were getting restless, so what did the speaker do on his spring break? He went to China, and talked tough to its leaders. And when he got back, he was all over the media, going after his critics on the Rush Limbaugh show.

"I don't frankly quite understand some of this behavior," Gingrich told Limbaugh. "[In] the case of [Weekly Standard magazine editor] Bill Kristol, I've about concluded that he thinks he has to make news by pandering to the liberals every week and has become sort of the most destructive element on the right."

He fed red meat to his conservative base.


"I'm not afraid of the union ads," he told GOPAC. "I'm not afraid of the interest groups that want to run ads. I do think we need to find a new and better way to approach the issue of free speech in a free society."

Next, he attacked the Clinton Administration's Middle East Policy. Then, in a news conference on Wednesday, he upped the ante on tax cuts.

"The chairman of the Fed [Federal Reserve] has said the most destructive -- I think he said pernicious -- tax in the country is the tax on capital gains because it kills jobs, it kills entrepreneurs, it kills savings. And so we are for a zero tax on savings and job creation. We're for a zero tax on death benefits."

As for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who has been critical of Gingrich's earlier retreat on tax cuts, this week he was forced to play catch-up with the speaker.


"I personally don't think we should have taxes in either of those areas," said the Mississippi Republican. "And I will always be looking for an opportunity to vote to eliminate them. But I don't think we can get that all done in one year when you're dealing with an overall budget situation."

Hey, who's the dirty moderate now?

The White House said it would wait patiently for the speaker to come back to his senses.

Said spokesman Mike McCurry, "He has a charm offensive under way with the far right, and we understand that, but at some point, to get business done, he has to come back to the center of the political spectrum and work with those like the president who are in the center."

But Gingrich's immediate problems are with conservatives. And at least for the time being, he has them charmed.


"Newt Gingrich remains not only an asset, but an indispensible asset to the Republican Party and the conservative cause," said Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed at the GOPAC meeting, "so I am proud to call him my friend."

It's the Newt Gingrich Comeback Tour! Yup, he's back, he's bad, and he gets the Political Play of the Week. But is it working? Judge for yourself.

Next stop on the comeback tour: Larry King Live, tonight, on CNN.

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