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What Is He Up To?

Perhaps the most intriguing and least easy to categorize speech at CPAC came from Newt Gingrich. It was the most partisan of assaults and the least pro-Republican in advocacy. It was the most raucous and the most sober. And it was not clear whether it was the opening of a presidential campaign, a political movement, or just a graduate course on political science.

First a word about tone and presentation. It is an art to give a speech to a large room packed with supporters and not talk in “speech” voice with awkward phrasing, trite lines and predictable timing. Gingrich has a well-modulated voice and the ability to deliver biting scarcasm without a sneer. He spoke in conversational language and in quiet tones and held the room in the palm of his hand.

But he didn’t start that way — entering from the back of a jammed room like a candidate, or perhaps the president entering the House of Representatives. Ah, I thought, this is the presidential campaign starter. But maybe not.

He was relentless in attacking the president, Nancy Pelosi (whom he teased mercilessly about popping up to applaud the president’s speech before he completed the applause lines) and the Obama administration. He began by excoriating Eric Holder for his comments that Americans were “cowards” and declared that he “welcomed the opportunity to have a dialogue with you about cowardice anytime and any place.” He then suggested Detroit where they could chat about failed government, failed bureaucracy and failed schools.  He declared that we “should be committed to liberating the people of Detroit.

But his sharpest criticism was reserved for liberals and the president. Reading from the New York Times, which declared that the new budget “sweeps away Reagan’s ideas,” he mused that the Times certainly hoped so and had suffered great disappointments –the Soviet Union disappears, private industry thrives, big government fails and they lost readership. He deadpanned :”It was great 25 years.”

His ire was mostly directed at the Obama budget, which he says is an effort to “create a European model.” And his language was harsh. ”The administration thinks we’re just plain dumb,” he said. ”A bill with 8,ooo earmarks doesn’t count? I was looking for change I can believe in. I wonder how dumb they think we are, that they think we wouldn’t notice 8,000 earmarks.” And on tax policy he noted that Obama is “not going to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250, 000–unless they use electricity.” Or other fuels.

But the heart of a speech was call to make the  2010 and 2012 elections “the most consequential in U.S. history. ” He declared, “Every person who didn’t read the stimulus —  everyone of them deserves to be defeated.” But this was not a Republican call to arms per se — indeed, this is where it got interesting. In his vision, Obama is part of the “failed Bush-Obama” policies of big government, lots of bureuacracy and high taxes. That’s the political or intellectual exercise he is engaging in and asking others to engage in — Obama is the past ( already!) and part of the failure of big government.  Gingrich’s movement, by contrast, is the low tax, anti-bureaucracy, pro-jobs “American party.”

Unlike Ronald Reagan, Gingrich isn’t per se calling Democrats and Independents to join the Republican party. No, he’s is calling for a “tripartite” movement to oppose the failed Obama/Bush regime. A true third party? Or a stealth presidential campaign? It wasn’t clear.

Gingrich was in top form today. However, it is not altogether clear, other than throwing out the Democratic Congressional majority, what he is up to. And perhaps he hasn’t quite decided himself.