By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
WASHINGTON â€” Newt Gingrich still relishes stirring the pot of the culture wars.
There he was last month in Akron, Ohio, telling an audience of 300 people that President Obama was out of touch. Why? Because the president did not understand the gut-level appeal of the pickup truck at the center of Scott Brownâ€™s winning campaign to wrest a Massachusetts Senate seat away from the Democrats.
â€œWhat if I have to haul a moose?â€ Mr. Gingrich said, to laughter. â€œYou cannot put a gun rack in the back of a Smart car.â€
The audience was enraptured, and many called out for Mr. Gingrich to run for president in 2012. He said in an interview that he was considering it and would make a decision by this time next year.
Of course, Mr. Gingrich, 66, carries substantial political baggage from his downfall as House speaker after the 1998 elections, and even some allies are skeptical that he will run (he opted out in 2008). But even if he is merely playing to the truism that potential presidential candidates garner more attention than noncandidates, he is clearly enjoying a moment back in the limelight.
Shortly after his visit to Akron, Mr. Gingrich spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. He waded to the lectern across the ballroom floor to the throbbing beat of â€œEye of the Tiger,â€ with lights flashing and thousands of well-wishers shrieking his name. No one else made such a rock-star entrance.
Like Sarah Palin and others who have discovered that they can command a political platform and a good income without running for office, Mr. Gingrich remains relevant by having built himself into a one-man industry churning out speeches, books, films and policy positions. And as the architect of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, he is much sought after for advice on how to replicate that feat this year.
â€œPeople frequently begin a conversation with, â€˜Newt called me and said X and thought we should do Y,â€™ â€ said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster. â€œHeâ€™s a former speaker, former third-in-line to the president, and people respect his energy and ideas.â€
Mr. Gingrich knows how to convey ideas in pithy language (â€œdeath taxâ€). He created the â€œDrill Here, Drill Now, Pay Lessâ€ slogan in support of domestic oil drilling that the party adopted in 2008. He helps train candidates on how to run successful campaigns. And his Contract With America, the 1994 document that spelled out the Republican agenda and helped nationalize the Congressional elections, has inspired at least two spinoffs this year â€” one by House Republicans, the other by the Tea Party movement.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and chief deputy whip, who is developing the new contract for the House, said he had called Mr. Gingrich for advice. â€œIn less than an hour, I had a three-page memo,â€ Mr. McCarthy said. â€œHeâ€™s good on the ideas and on the tactics.â€
Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant who has advised Mr. Gingrich on and off for 15 years, said Mr. Gingrich was â€œmore powerful than the entire Republican National Committee.â€
â€œHe has a better e-mail list, he has better ideas, heâ€™s a better communicator and heâ€™s more in touch with what people think,â€ Mr. Luntz said.
Democrats are less impressed.
â€œHeâ€™s smart and engaging,â€ said Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist, â€œbut he is seen as incredibly divisive and not very successful.â€
In any case, Mr. Gingrichâ€™s language is less apocalyptic than when he was speaker (and wanted to transform civilization), but he has never been accused of thinking small. In the interview in his K Street office, he talked excitedly about creating a governing majority for the next decade and beating back the elite â€œsecular socialist machineâ€ that he says is trying to rid the public square of religion and threatens American culture.
He described his tenure as speaker this way:
â€œI tried to actually figure out how to move the country and then change the government to fit where the country was going. Henry Clay is probably the person who is the most parallel in using the speakership as an instrument of national leadership, not just an instrument of legislative leadership.â€
He said he was respectful of the Tea Party movement, which he said would â€œforce change,â€ and that he shared many of its beliefs â€” in transparency, limited government and distrust of both parties (Mr. Gingrich did periodically criticize the Bush administration).
But Mr. Gingrich also said he had seen this movie before â€” both in Ross Perotâ€™s independent campaigns for president in 1992 and 1996, and his own so-called revolution.
â€œWe did a Boston Tea Party event in â€™94,â€ he said. â€œSome of these things come back full cycle. I feel some days like weâ€™re back at the same vaudeville act.â€
He sits atop an empire of interlocking policy groups, political networks and media enterprises with a total of about 60 employees. His chief vehicle is a policy center called American Solutions for a Winning Future. It has 1.5 million online members and raised more money ($8.1 million) in the last quarter of last year than Ms. Palin and Mitt Romney, another potential 2012 candidate, combined. His group is a so-called 527, which can accept unlimited donations, while the others have political action committees, which are restricted. His bigger sum aside, Mr. Gingrich said Ms. Palin was â€œthe best fund-raiser in the party.â€
In addition to writing books â€” he is finishing his 20th â€” he is making movies. His latest, a documentary about Pope John Paul IIâ€™s visit to Poland in 1979, is scheduled to open next month.
Mr. Gingrich was raised Lutheran, later became a Southern Baptist and converted to Roman Catholicism nearly a year ago. He said the conversion seemed natural after attending Mass so often with his third wife, Callista. Since converting, he said, he is more â€œrelaxed and comforted.â€
The Gingriches go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the largest Roman Catholic Church in the country, and while he waits as his wife attends choir practice, he said, people often approach him. â€œI become sort of a tourist attraction,â€ he said.
Grover Norquist, a long-time ally who is president of Americans for Tax Reform, said Mr. Gingrich was in a â€œsweet spotâ€ because his current activities would serve him well whether he ran for president or not.
â€œHeâ€™s out there working with and building a broader movement,â€ Mr. Norquist said. â€œAs we know from Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, you donâ€™t have to be president to be part of the conversation in American politics.â€
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