Aggressive Old Newt Gingrich Is Back

Dropping in the polls, Gingrich abandons his "positive" campaign for his Clinton-era ways.

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In a world where politicians and celebrities routinely reinvent themselves to engineer a comeback, there's something reassuring about what's happened in the week between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

Newt Gingrich is back.

The former House speaker is not back in the polls. In fact, he has dropped from the days, not all that long ago, that he was besting presumed front-runner former Gov. Mitt Romney in places like Florida, Iowa, and California. And that may be why the old Newt, the hard-driving, unforgiving political fighter of the 1990s has re-emerged.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Newt Gingrich.]

Gingrich was brutal as an upcoming Republican congressman, and then speaker, during the Contract With America era in the mid-1990s. His remaking of the GOP helped the party retake control of the House for the first time in four decades. He had a certain ruthlessness that is arguably necessary, at least to a degree, for someone in that role. His aggressiveness may also have contributed to his downfall—he ended up resigning both the speakership and his congressional seat shortly after a poor Republican showing in the 1998 elections—but it indeed helped him rise to where he had at least once been.

That Gingrich wasn't around in the early part of the campaign. Instead, the former speaker cast himself as the intellectual of the group, the one who could go toe-to-toe with President Obama in debates. That worked for awhile, when Gingrich became another in a series of Romney alternatives the GOP primary electorate was giving a chance. But once Romney— or at least, Romney's supporters—hit back, Old Newt resurfaced.

[Read the U.S. News debate on whether Gingrich can beat Obama.]

He was visibly furious on election night in Iowa, calling Romney a liar and blaming the former Massachusetts governor for Super PAC ads that blasted Gingrich, but which Romney said he did not control. He greeted Romney in New Hampshire with a full-page critical ad in the Union-Leader. And in Sunday's debate, Gingrich really let loose, blasting Romney for claiming that despite his history as a governor, Senate candidate, and 2008 presidential candidate, he is actually a citizen-businessman contender for president.

"You didn't have this interlude of citizenship when you thought about what to do. You were running for president while you were governor. You were going all over the country, and "you then promptly reentered politics, Gingrich said. "Just level with the American people, Gingrich concluded—basically calling his opponent a liar yet again.

Romney is way ahead in New Hampshire polls, as has been long expected, and momentum may carry him off to successes in South Carolina and Florida. Gingrich's return to aggressive politicking may not put him back in the race. But it's real.

  • See a slide show of Newt Gingrich's career.
  • Check out political cartoons about Mitt Romney
  • See the Top 5 GOP Candidate Gaffes of 2011