The Unsinkable Newt Gingrich

Left for dead time and again, the former speaker tries for another improbable comeback in South Carolina.

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EASLEY, S.C. -- You just can't keep Newt Gingrich down.

Somehow, despite coming in fourth in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich is once again in contention, closing in on Mitt Romney in the final days before Saturday's primary in South Carolina, which is likely the last chance to block Romney from rolling to the nomination.

It is a development simultaneously easy and impossible to explain: He just refuses to die.

Every time Gingrich is left for dead, he sulks for a while, and then he blazes forward. Ousted as House speaker, he remade himself as the GOP's intellectual-in-residence (not to mention well-remunerated unregistered Beltway lobbyist). Abandoned by his staff shortly after the disastrous start of his campaign, he soldiered on and rose to the top just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Brought low by a thorough shelling from his opponents, he declined to bow out in the wake of his early losses. And now, here he is again -- though his resurgence was threatened Tuesday night with the news that ABC plans to air a potentially very damaging interview with his second ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, on Thursday night.

It is the great irony of Gingrich's political life that despite his reputation as a man of vision, he owes most of his success not to grand plans but to sheer force of personality. And if there is one thing Romney conspicuously lacks, it is force of personality. (Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are not exactly overflowing with it, either.)

"I think one of the great weaknesses that Republicans have is that they're boring," he mused here Wednesday, addressing a jam-packed crowd of several hundred at a barbecue joint outside Greenville, proceeding to a critique of his party's communications strategy on entitlement reform.

"They're boring! They don't know how to communicate!" he said. What about Reagan? somebody asked. "Reagan was an FDR Democrat and a movie star. He wasn't a normal Republican," Gingrich lectured. "I'm a student of Reagan. I'm not a normal Republican. This is part of why the Washington establishment doesn't like me. I think being interesting beats being boring. I think communicating beats hiding."

Peevish, pedantic, grandiose -- Gingrich is all of these things, and you don't have to spend much time around him to start rolling your eyes. ("I really am a bold change agent," he reflected, pensively, at one point.) But he's also a tremendous amount of fun, especially if he's on your side. His audacity is breathtaking, his imagination infectious, his humor as vicious as it is delectable.

Gingrich projects the promise of a total victory for the conservative argument in the war of ideas: "I believe we can go into every neighborhood in America, in every background, and say to people, 'Would you rather your children had dependence, with food stamps from the government? Or independence, with a payckeck from a job? And I believe we will win that argument everywhere, and I think we can set up a campaign this fall of extraordinary proportions by bringing the country together."

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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