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Newt Gingrich's allies and foes alike have long described him as smart but bratty and arrogant--basically a terrible young person. Some of them express this by naming what they see as his exact mental age. But just how young Gingrich acts, according to his critics and to Gingrich himself, has changed over time--he's like a Benjamin Button, minus the whole Brad Pitt thing.

In 1997, the late Tony Snow wrote of Gingrich, "Like a precocious teen, he often becomes so enchanted with his intellectual dexterity that he ignores crusty realities. At the same time House members were scheming to dump him, for instance, his staff was leaking rumors that he might run for president." [Emphasis added.]

Last fall, Gingrich himself described himself and his third wife, Callista, to Esquire's John H. Richardson thus: "There's a large part of me that's four years old... I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there's a cookie. I don't know where it is but I know it's mine and I have to go find it. That's how I live my life... Callista and I kid that I'm four and she's five and therefore she gets to be in charge, because the difference between four and five is a lot." (That bit of analysis is all the more interesting given that his second wife, Marianne, says she came up with it. "You know where that line came from? Me. That's my line. That's what I told him. ... I'm sorry, that's so freaky.")

Wednesday, The Hill's Michael O'Brien reports that Gingrich's old colleagues from his days as House speaker caution that he might not be focused enough to run a successful presidential campaign. "He's a guy of 1,000 ideas, and the attention span of a 1-year-old. His discipline and his attention to any individual thing is not his strong suit," Republican Sen. Richard Burr explained.

But the Gingrich team isn't entirely rejecting the characterization. Gingrich's spokesman Rick Tyler told O'Brien, "If that's what it will take to again get to a conservative agenda passed in the Congress, then please send as many 1-year-olds as possible, as soon as possible, to the Congress."

Still, let's hope that Gingrich's brain doesn't get any younger. As it stands, he doesn't have much to go before he hits fetal development.

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