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August 26, 2013

Which Newt Will We Get?

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

So, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich (R., GA) is undergoing his next political reinvention.


He was the creator of the Contract for America. He was the number one antagonist of President Bill Clinton. He was the Speaker who was run out of town for his own marital/ethical lapses. He was the idea guy, a creative thinker and prolific writer full of new ideas and thinking. He was the presidential candidate, the Obama-scorning alternative for GOP faithful, who just couldn't fall for Mitt Romney and couldn't stand Rick Santorum.


After all of these incarnations, Newt Gingrich is back. This time, he'll be the conservative co-host of CNN's Crossfire, a once-revered evening talk fest featuring a prominent liberal and conservative point of view.


Past hosts, most notably Michael Kinsley and Tom Braden on the left and Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak on the right, were known for their spirited defenses of both the Republican and Democratic Party lines.


The show was often a top CNN ratings grabber, although the audience share paled in comparison to news programming on stations like Fox News, or non-news programming on regular cable.


Then, in October of 2004, the Crossfire train derailed. Comedian and quasi-news show host John Stewart appeared on the program to plug his book. Hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala must have assumed they were in for a night of yucks, but Mr. Stewart had a different idea.


He attacked the hosts and the whole design of the show for diminishing the quality of public political dialogue. He criticized the blatantly partisan nature of Crossfire by claiming the two hosts were little more than mouthpieces for the national political parties to which they belonged. He argued that they had a greater civic obligation to raise the bar.


In January of 2005, Crossfire was cancelled by CNN. A statement from the network sympathized with John Stewart's criticism, announcing a plan to shift to a broader perspective in its news coverage.


So, it appears CNN is ready to reenter the marketplace of full-contact political debate. The Crossfire team has grown from two to four, featuring Mr. Gingrich and conservative columnist S.E. Cupp on the right and Obama campaign senior advisor Stephanie Cutter and former Obama environmental czar and noted ultra-progressive Van Jones on the left.


The curiosity is over which Newt we'll get on Crossfire. At a recent Republican National Committee strategy meeting in Massachusetts, Speaker Gingrich cautioned the gathered party leaders that the GOP would continue to lose the battle for public opinion unless they became the guys with positive solutions, not just negativity and criticism.


He admonished them to avoid just attacking President Barack Obama and instead to develop and offer creative solutions to our most vexing problems, citing healthcare and immigration as examples.


This is coming on the heels of his own unsuccessful 2012 primary campaign, during which he basically spent a year attacking President Obama.


He's probably right; the GOP does seem inclined to overplay the role of critic-in-chief. It's fairly easy to say why Obama Administration policies are wrong for America, but offering viable alternatives to solve those same problems requires much more effort.


If Newt Gingrich is going to use his new televised platform to debate serious conservative policy alternatives to failed (or failing) liberal policy solutions, then he may establish a new high bar for future GOP candidates, especially those inclined to seek national office.


If it's the old Newt we see on Crossfire, then two things will likely follow: (1.) CNN will again find itself forced to cancel the show due to failing ratings; and (2.) Newt Gingrich's personal brand will suffer irreparable damage, and his credibility as a national spokesman will end up right back where it was when he left Washington in shame after his resignation from the House of Representatives.


So, which will it be? This fall you'll have the chance to tune in to Crossfire on CNN and decide for yourself.


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