The next Newt

THE NEXT NEWT…. One would like to assume that Newt Gingrich, 10 years after being forced from power by his own Republican caucus and leaving Congress as something of a disgrace, would have very limited influence in the halls of Congress.

For reasons that I’ve never fully been able to grasp, that’s not the case.

The last time Congressional Republicans were this out of power, they turned to a college professor from Georgia, Newt Gingrich, to lead the opposition, first against President Bill Clinton in a budget battle in 1993, and then back into the majority the following year.

As Republicans confronted President Obama in another budget battle last week, their leadership included another new face: Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who as the party’s chief vote wrangler is as responsible as anyone for the tough line the party has taken in this first legislative standoff with Mr. Obama. This battle has vaulted Mr. Cantor to the front lines of his party as it tries to recover from the losses of November. […]

Mr. Cantor said he had studied Mr. Gingrich’s years in power and had been in regular touch with him as he sought to help his party find the right tone and message. Indeed, one of Mr. Gingrich’s leading victories in unifying his caucus against Mr. Clinton’s package of tax increases to balance the budget in 1993 has been echoed in the events of the last few weeks.

“I talk to Newt on a regular basis because he was in the position that we are in: in the extreme minority,” he said.

Given the extent of Gingrich’s failures, it seems odd that Republican lawmakers would turn to the former Speaker for guidance, especially now that the party is struggling so badly with message, direction, leadership, and public standing. Indeed, Gingrich led the fight against Clinton’s economic policies — he guaranteed they would lead to a recession — which in retrospect only makes his judgment look even worse.

But I guess ol’ Newt must be awfully persuasive behind the scenes, because Republicans keep reaching out to him for advice. Satyam Khanna notes, for example, that it was Gingrich who helped drive GOP opposition to the first TARP package in September.

I would just add that it was also Gingrich who pushed House Republicans to make “drill now” the centerpiece of its policy agenda (Gingrich encouraged the GOP caucus to shut down the government unless Pelosi expanded coastal drilling) last fall, and in June, counseled the Senate Republican caucus on exactly how they could reclaim the majority. (Remind me; how’d that work out for them?)

And now Eric Cantor seems anxious to take direction from Gingrich. I can only assume Democrats on the Hill are thrilled.

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