Step aside, Bill Clinton. Newt Gingrich has emerged this year as the ultimate comeback kid, coming back from the political grave three times in less than a year, capped by his win tonight in South Carolina that changed the conventional wisdom on the Republican race from “done deal” to “anyone’s bet.” The Daily Beast looks back on the wild ride Gingrich has taken from down and out to riding high.
Newtfest at Tiffany’s The candidate who has tried to ride the populist wave hit rocky waters last May when his wife Callista’s financial disclosure forms revealed that from 2005 to 2006 Gingrich was carrying as much as a half million dollars in debt to jeweler Tiffany and Co. Politico’s memorable lead breaking the news: “Newt Gingrich, a fiscal conservative? Not when it comes to Tiffany’s.”
Campaign Staff Jumps ShipThe next month, Gingrich’s top staffers jumped ship. The campaign’s manager, spokesman, and national chair, along with all his paid Iowa staffers, handed in their resignations en masse, reigniting debate over whether Gingrich could hope to endure the scrutiny of a presidential campaign. At the time, old salts were ready to say the run was kaput. Craig Robinson, a former Iowa Republican political director, said the possibility of a Republican nod was “effectively over. Here and nationally.” But Newt took to Facebook to restate his dedication to the race. “I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring,” he posted. “The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles.” Since then, Newt has been unleashed, effectively running his own campaign.
Gingrich’s ‘Odyssey’ The last straw for the staffers who defected was his break from the campaign trail at the end of May to take a luxury cruise in Greece on the Seabourn Odyssey. Asked for comment in June, a Gingrich spokesman reportedly emailed back “no comment”—in Greek. But come November, Gingrich has recast his vacation into research into the debt-crisis field. “I visited Greece in June. I talked to people about what they were faced with in Greece,” Gingrich said. “And I listened to them and I tried to understand they face a crisis of enormous proportions.”
The Iowa Surge Gingrich hitched a ride on the Cain Train when the conductor, Mr. 9-9-9 himself, dropped out. After Herman Cain left the race in the first week of December amid snowballing reports of bad behavior toward women, Gingrich picked up many of the former Godfather’s CEO supporters in Iowa. “Newt Gingrich is the likely beneficiary,” said Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee chairman. A Bloomberg poll showed that Gingrich was the likely second choice of most Cain supporters. Newt was—again and for the moment—a power to be reckoned with. “I think a lot of people inside the Beltway and outside the Beltway woke up today to a very different political environment and one in which Newt Gingrich is very much for real,” said Obama campaign adviser and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
The Iowa Plummet But his rise triggered a barrage of attack ads dredging up the former speaker’s checkered past from the super PAC backing Mitt Romney, and he found himself eclipsed by the sudden rise of Rick Santorum in the last week of the race, as self-identified conservative Christians consolidated support behind the former Pennsylvania senator. Gingrich, who’d polled at the top of the field and the national polls just a month earlier, sunk to fifth—and began preparing for a last stand in South Carolina as pundits asked if he was staying in the race solely to launch a kamikaze attack on Romney.
The Marianne Interview Backfires Early this week, word leaked out of a conflicted ABC newsroom that the network had an exclusive interview with Marianne Gingrich, marking the first time Gingrich’s second ex-wife would speak on television since the pair divorced in 1999. The interview would reportedly be a “bombshell” —leaving much of the shell-shocked American electorate to wonder what else there could be possibly be to reveal. Last Thursday, Marianne took to the airwaves to recount the saga of their nasty divorce to voters who hadn’t followed the fight until then, and to add one new twist: Newt’s request for an ”open marriage” to continue his affair with Callista Bisek, his then-mistress and now his third wife.
Again, Gingrich turned the apparent liability to his advantage when CNN host John King opened Thursday night’s debate by asking about the reports. Gingrich earned two standing ovations as he ripped King for raising the “destructive” and “despicable” question. “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama,” he added. Two days later, he claimed victory in South Carolina, where he’d trailed in the polls just a week earlier.