"I have mixed feelings about what we did," says Weber, who admits that their approach did lead to increased political division. "There was clearly a strategy of polarization and it grew out of many decades of frustration about being in the minority." But Weber believes that without that strategy, Republicans would never have been able to win back the House. The 104th Congress, led by Gingrich, is perhaps best remembered for shutting down the government in a budget showdown with President Clinton. Its Republicans took a long time to recover from that shutdown, losing House seats in 1996 and 1998.
Gingrich has always had a problem with losing his temper and popping off. In November 1995, around the time of the government shutdown, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Gingrich attended the funeral with the American delegation aboard Air Force One and later complained to reporters about his seat on the plane. Gingrich's remarks got national media attention and the New York Daily News put him on the front page in a cartoon in diapers with the headline "Cry Baby: He closed down the government because Clinton made him sit at back of plane."
Many of his GOP colleagues in the House saw Gingrich as a liability who had hurt them electorally with his public comments and his ethics problems.
During that time I was working on a book, "The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution?" and was talking frequently with members of the House Class of '94 like Joe Scarborough who told me that most of his classmates didn't like Gingrich and resented his trying to take all the credit for getting them elected. A group of the freshmen even launched a potential coup trying to oust him as Speaker.
The House ultimately voted 395-28 to reprimand Gingrich and order him to pay a $300,000 penalty for ethics violations involving contributions and political activity. It was the first and only time in the history of the House that a sitting Speaker had been disciplined for ethical violations.
In typical Gingrich fashion he blamed his lawyers and the liberal media. "If you are a conservative and... if you make a single mistake, you better plan to be pilloried because you're politically incorrect," he said.
Gingrich resigned the speakership at the beginning of 1999, becoming only the third House Speaker in U.S. history to do so after Wright, whom he had toppled, and Henry Clay, who did so for personal reasons.
And then there's the hypocrisy. In the months before his resignation, Gingrich was pushing for impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky -- as well as possible perjury and obstruction of justice charges -- while at the same time the married Gingrich was carrying on a long affair with House staffer Callista Bisek, 22 years his junior and now his third wife.
The conservative religious wing of the Republican Party is all too familiar with Gingrich's marital infidelities and history. It was no accident that at a recent debate, in an example of his constancy, Romney mentioned that he had been married to the same woman for more than 40 years. Or that an anonymous individual or group has been leafletting in Iowa to remind voters about Gingrich's marital history, accusing him of failing to take his vows to women and to God seriously.
Gingrich is simply too angry, has too much baggage and will not play with a majority of Americans -- and Republican Party leaders know it.
The one person who doesn't seem to get this is Newt Gingrich. Lately he's been talking about how he is running the most substantive campaign in modern American history and how he will win South Carolina, Florida and the nomination.
For all his bravado and bluster, Gingrich is anything but immune to criticism and extremely sensitive to slights. And some GOP officials believe Gingrich's personal foibles will be even more of a problem for him than his checkered political history.
In an upcoming 2012 campaign e-book, Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon claim that Gingrich spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Tiffany jewelry to get his wife to agree to his running for president. Gingrich's Tiffany bill may be little more than an interesting side-note but in these times of economic crisis for so many Americans, it also reflects a tone deafness, just like Gingrich's acceptance of more than a million dollars to serve as a consultant for Freddie Mac.
Gingrich also lacks the personal skills that presidents must have to bring people together and govern. Another person who has known Gingrich for many years told me, "Newt doesn't have any close friends."
And that is probably the secret to Herman Cain's ability to hang in the chase despite all the charges of sexual harassment being leveled against him. Republican voters -- or at least Republican men -- still seem to like him. Even Rick Perry has shown, after his debate "oops" moment, a capacity to laugh at himself.
If Gingrich had screwed up at a debate, as Perry did, you just can't picture him making fun of himself in an attempt at damage control.
"Gingrich is getting his moment in the sun, but the fundamentals of the race haven't changed," observes a Romney supporter, adding, Romney's got the money and organization to go the distance.
No matter how much talk you hear about the Gingrich surge and Gingrich as the anti-Romney, the only important fact you need to remember about the former speaker is this: Newt Gingrich will never be president.
Image credit: Phelan Ebenehack/Reuters