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Scenes from the Gingrich Campaign

Don't rule out Newt in 2008.

Mar 19, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 26 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Gingrich's message tonight is "very simple": "Five words: Real change requires real change." It's time for "genuine, adult conversation," he says, about dizzying scientific advancement and stultifying, oppressive bureaucratic stagnation and decay; about the perils of rogue regimes arming with nuclear and biological weapons; about health care. Nothing excites Gingrich quite like health care. In his view, it's where bureaucracy most plainly impedes technological progress. It's the sector of the economy most ripe for reform. It's the system into which Lincoln-inspired leaders could introduce free-market incentives and state-of-the-art management techniques. "I believe we can get to 100 percent insurance coverage, a 300-million-payer system, much better preventive care, with much less cost, and produce a system that probably 20 years from now costs 40 percent less per projections," Gingrich says, drawing his performance to a close. "But it will be real change. And to get there will require real change."

Clap clap clap! The New York crowd eats it up. Some whoop; others applaud politely. Then Russert introduces Cuomo, who seems a little shell-shocked. He has spent Gingrich's speech studying a binder full of papers, onto which he kept scribbling--doodling?--notes. Also Cuomo is under the weather--tonight is the first time he's been out of the house "in any real way" for about a week, he says--and his voice is fatigued. Plus he must not have received the memo about "cold, calculating reason." It's not long before the septuagenarian statesman launches into a rushed, meandering, barely coherent attack on the Bush White House. "While I agree with the speaker that government can be positive," he says, "the current government has--been--a--disaster." Whereupon the liberals in the audience, who so far have been hiding, cheer.

Gingrich, who is sitting onstage next to Russert, a few feet from Cuomo, is smiling tightly.

"I don't think the speaker could have said it any better or any clearer," Cuomo says. "They're a disaster at Katrina, they're a disaster at foreign policy, they don't know what to do in handling weapons, they've done everything wrong--Homeland Security, it's an absolute disaster. He's right. . . . Mr. Speaker, I think we'll take care of that, on Election Day 2008." The libs are digging it now, and the boilerplate continues: "The nation's sense of community has withered over the last six years." . . . "Government should stay out of the religion business." . . . "If we had the Treasury that Bill Clinton left us, $5.4 trillion surplus." . . . Iraq is "a tragic, calamitous blunder that [Bush] refuses to acknowledge or to end." And so on.

Cuomo's gone over his allotted time, and the conservatives in the audience have punctuated his talk with impolite catcalls and jeers, and the whole business is a pretty sorry affair, something of which Lincoln would not have been proud. As Cuomo takes his seat you get the feeling that he is really here for another purpose, as a prop for the impish white-haired man sitting to Russert's left. The feeling grows more pronounced when conversation turns to the 2008 presidential election.

"Which Democrat and which Republican do you think would make the most interesting . . . candidate?" Russert asks.

"Candidate, but not president?" Cuomo says, "I really don't know."

And the audience exhales, Awwwwwwww.

And Cuomo says, "And the reason I don't know is because I don't know who all the candidates are gonna be."

Awwwwwwww.

But Cuomo knows he has to give them something, so he looks over at Gingrich, looks back at the audience, and then says, his voice turning soft and serious: "Newt--would make--a terrific--candidate."

There is, believe it or not, a path by which Newt Gingrich could conceivably arrive at the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. The path starts where we are now, with Gingrich not declaring any sort of candidacy and refusing to shed light on his plans. What he has done instead is create a nonpartisan political organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, that can spend unlimited sums of money under section 527 of the U.S. tax code. American Solutions, Gingrich says, will hold national workshops this September 27--the thirteenth anniversary of the Contract With America--and September 29. Then, on September 30--call it G-Day--Gingrich will "decide" whether to run for president. At which point there still will be about three and a half months before the first actual caucuses and primaries.