Newt Gingrich Begins Pundit-to-Candidate Transformation

What's the difference between a retired-politician-turned-pundit and a presidential candidate?

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In the hot political scoop of the day ABC News splashed the news that Newt Gingrich is jumping into the 2012 presidential campaign. Their actual news is a lot more circumspect: "confidants close to the former House speaker say he will announce his intention to form a presidential exploratory committee before the end of the week." For those keeping score at home, that places Gingrich four steps away from being a candidate for president: he will possibly announce that he intends to officially explore a potential bid for the GOP nomination.

However, the reason this news can get so many people excited is that in the kabuki at the opening of presidential campaigns, people who get paid to talk for a living must transform themselves from pundit to politician. The two species are related (see the lineups of analysts on any cable network), but they operate under different sets of rules. Extended hypothetical phrasing aside, it is likely that Gingrich the retired pol and fire-breathing pundit will morph into Gingrich the on-message candidate in the next couple of months. And, today, he emerged from his chrysalis, eager to be considered a serious contender for the highest office in the land. So, practically speaking, what will change for Newt?

An End to Any Dreams of Shilling Mayonnaise  Retired politicians (and semi-retired pundits) get to do things like appear in mayonnaise commercials, salvage their reputation on Dancing with the Stars or get paid to shoot a caribou on reality TV. Candidates don't. Rumored Presidential contenders get paid enormous sums to go speak at college campuses or think tank events. Candidates have to go--for free--on the stump in rural Iowa for months in order to place well enough in the caucus system. The days of Newt Gingrich merely trying to promote his war novels, self-help books and CD's on Twitter may have to be put on the back burner in order for him to craft a cohesive message. Speaking of which...

Any Time He Says Something Dumb, Everyone Will Pay More Attention  To be clear: Gingrich is in the business of making people pay attention to Gingrich. But there's a difference between the mini-firestorms created by Gingrich the pundit when he went absolutely ballistic over a controversial issue like last year's mosque near Ground Zero, or remarks about the President's "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview, and the type of backlash Gingrich the candidate can stir up in the culture wars.

He'll Probably Have to Give Up Being Paid by Fox News, Right?  That's the thing about rumored GOP presidential contenders, they can keep their job as a paid contributors with FOX News (Huckabee, Palin, Santorum) and still have the authority of a soon-to-be power broker. Presumably, Newt Gingrich will have to say goodbye to the Fox News payroll. CNN reports that, yes, according to FEC guidelines Gingrich would in fact have to step down "which would mean giving up salaries...and an established platform to reach a large audience of Americans."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.