Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has begun to edge back into the public arena, looking to rehabilitate himself after being virtually driven from office more than a year ago. But his efforts could take a lot longer than he might hope.
Once the triumphant leader of the Republican takeover of Congress, Gingrich now finds himself largely ostracized in his party. Bad feelings linger over the Republicans' midterm election losses, and his admission last fall that he had carried on a six-year affair with a House staffer has ruptured his ties to the GOP establishment.
Many Republican lawmakers wonder openly how they could have been betrayed by a leader who committed one of the same sins that led to President Clinton's impeachment.
"Where he stands is as the leader of a revolution who has through his own actions been deposed," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a moderate who was once a staunch Gingrich defender. Said Rep. Mark Edward Souder, R-Ind., a conservative member of the class of 1994 who served on the speaker's strategy team, "Who wants to run for election in 2000 with a picture of Newt Gingrich?"
Unlike former Senate majority leaders Bob Dole, R-Kan., and George Mitchell, D-Maine _ both of whom serve as elder statesmen in the private sector, occasionally intervening in foreign crises _ Gingrich remains largely alienated from his former colleagues.
Gingrich has begun to try to re-engage the political establishment, delivering a trio of speeches in January on foreign policy, the information age and the conservative movement. And he is serving at think tanks, taking college courses, advising large corporations and startups on information technology and international affairs, and engaging in TV punditry.
Many House Republicans relish the relative peace under Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and they are focused on retaining their slim majority. Gingrich neither talks frequently with House leaders nor shows up on the GOP cocktail circuit, according to several lawmakers.
"The bottom line is, members were hoping for a period of more stability and tranquillity in 1999, and that was achieved," said former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., who is close to the House leadership.
Gingrich is an unpaid senior fellow at AEI and the Hoover Institution in California, studying health care on the East Coast and technology and society on the West. He consults with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Gingrich receives $35,000 to $50,000 a speech, and he's advising large corporations and start-ups on information technology and international affairs.
He hasn't abandoned politics: He has founded three issue advocacy groups to push for creating private, tax-free retirement accounts, capping an individual's total tax rate at 25 percent, and promoting American involvement abroad. He dispenses advice daily through a 90-second radio program called Straight Talk and as a commentator on Fox News Channel.