By Chris Cillizza
Halfway through 2011, former House speaker Newt Gingrich looked to be a leading candidate for the "Worst Year in Washington" prize. After taking a three-week Mediterranean cruise and suffering a series of withering questions about various lines of credit he had held at Tiffany & Co., the Georgia Republican watched as nearly his entire presidential campaign staff quit en masse.
Counted out by, well, everyone, Gingrich spent the summer finding sustenance in the many, many debates on the presidential calendar to reenergize his campaign.
And he succeeded. Tossing red meat to the conservative base (Fire Ben Bernanke!), launching attacks on debate moderators ("I'm not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other") and deploying the power of his not-insignificant intellect (he's ranged from the League of Nations to electromagnetic pulse attacksduring the debates), Gingrich now finds himself at the front of the Republican presidential race with just over two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
For a guy whose political career has been defined by massive booms and busts — Gingrich became speaker of the House after the historic 1994 elections but was out of Congress by 1999 — there's no question he is on an upswing at the moment. "I'm now, I think by a big margin, the front-runner," Gingrich said this past week in New Hampshire.
And if there's a Gingrich bust, it will almost certainly come sometime in 2012 — if and when his tendency to make an impolitic statement ("Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview"anyone?) or his less-than-perfect conservative credentials (climate change ad with Nancy Pelosi?) catch up with him.
But for someone whose political obituary was written six months ago — not to mention 12 years ago — the idea that Gingrich will enter 2012 as a viable presidential candidate means he had a pretty darn good 2011.