He no longer speaks of revolution. The former bomb thrower now sees himself as a bridge builder.
A new day has dawned for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and as he ponders a run for the presidency in 2000, the former leader of the Republican revolution displays newfound faith in the art of conciliation and the promise of incremental progress.After a tumultuous year in which he narrowly survived a coup attempt and a bruising ethics investigation, Gingrich has entered 1998 with a softer style and a low-risk agenda more characteristic of a centrist survivor such as President Clinton than the guerrilla leader of Gingrich's past.
The Georgia Republican rolled out the new look last month on a 17-state blitz in which he raised $2 million for Republican congressional candidates and opened this year's election effort to increase the GOP's fragile, 11-seat majority in the House.
The trip was a prelude to a spring tour that Gingrich has planned to promote his forthcoming book about his early years as speaker: "Lessons Learned the Hard Way."
Judging from his recent appearances, Gingrich's new wisdom includes the notion that a less combative persona will boost his dismal standing in the polls.
Even as other Republican leaders lashed out at Clinton over allegations that he had sex with a former White House intern and encouraged her to lie about it, Gingrich has remained uncharacteristically quiet.
He showed similar restraint on the road. Stopping in Charlotte in late January, for example, Gingrich put aside his cutting sarcasm, posed with children and praised Clinton more than he panned him during a Republican town meeting before a friendly crowd of 2,800 supporters.
The audience waved hundreds of "I Love Newt" placards and cheered as Gingrich asserted that the nation is having "a magic moment," a period of peacetime prosperity with boundless possibilities if Americans would accomplish his "goals for a generation."
Despite Gingrich's denials, Rep. Melvin L. Watt, a Democrat who represents part of Charlotte and attended the event, echoed the view of many in the auditorium. "It was almost like he was running for president," Watt said.
Many in the crowd shouted, "Amen," as Gingrich invoked God and Thomas Jefferson, calling on local leaders to improve the country by requiring schools to devote one day a year in every class to studying the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and ponder what the Founding Fathers meant by the word "creator."