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The End of a Surprisingly Good Political Career

By Michael Barone - June 13, 2011

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It certainly was not connections to any particular political group. Gingrich graduated from good universities, but he is essentially an autodidact, a self-educated loner. He has long been credited with having new ideas, but looking back on his nearly 40-year political career -- he first ran for Congress in Georgia in 1974 -- I think his keenest insights were not about public policy, but about political possibilities.

He foresaw that Republicans could win congressional races in the small-town South and worked hard to prove it, losing first in the Watergate year and then in 1976, when Jimmy Carter swept Georgia, before he beat a conservative Democrat in 1978.

I remember that starting in 1984, he was predicting that Republicans could win a majority in the House. He was wrong then, but he was right in 1994 and he was right about the reasons all along. He saw that Republicans would win most Southern seats and that talented young Democrats elected in the Vietnam/Watergate years would in time retire or be defeated.

He coached politically clueless Republican candidates with the high tech of the day -- hours of Newt on audiotape -- and bucked the Bush 41 White House and House Republican leader in opposing a tax increase in 1990.

As speaker, Gingrich had more policy successes than his current detractors recall. He held federal spending essentially static for a year, setting the budget on a path to surpluses; passed a landmark welfare reform act; and set in motion a Medicare reform commission that recommended premium support, the main feature of Ryan's proposal.

Through all this, Gingrich always was searching for ideas that commanded 70 percent support. He understood that dovish Democrats' disdain for American exceptionalism was a grave political liability and sought to exploit it. But after his first moments in the spotlight as speaker, he turned off voters. I think he reminded them of the high-school nerd/egghead whom all the other kids disliked.

Gingrich turns 68 next week; this was obviously the last year he could run for president. His chances were never great and now seem nonexistent. But we shouldn't forget what this man, with his unusual gifts and despite glaring flaws, managed to accomplish against great odds.

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Michael Barone is Senior Political Analyst for the Washington Examiner, co-author of The Almanac of American Politics and a contributor to Fox News.

Copyright 2011, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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