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Posted at 7:58 AM ET, 02/28/2011

Good Newt and Bad Newt

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) continues to move ever-closer to a run for president in 2012, a bid that will almost certainly highlight his great gifts and equally large potential flaws.

Party strategists who have long followed Gingrich's career tend to see two men in the Georgia Republican: Good Newt and the Bad Newt.

Good Newt is, without question, one of the most talented politicians operating in the party today -- brilliant, brimming with ideas and charismatic.

Bad Newt uses his rhetorical firepower -- and it is considerable -- too freely, falling off message and, in so doing, bringing trouble down on himself.

"He always believes he is the smartest guy in the room," said one Republican consultant who has studied Gingrich's career closely. "And usually he is. The problem is, he knows it."

The two sides of Gingrich were on display -- in spades -- during his rise (and fall) as speaker of the House in the 1990s.

He was, without question, the intellectual force and strategic visionary behind the "Contract with America" that put Republicans back in charge of the House for the first time in 40 years.

But, Gingrich's willingness to engage in a battle of chicken with then President Bill Clinton over the budget in 1995 badly wounded him and his party, and when his predictions that the GOP would pick up seats in the 1998 election proved off-base, he left Congress with his colleagues threatening mutiny.

More than a decade later, Gingrich is set to re-emerge in the national spotlight with many of those same questions surrounding him.

Can he be the Good Newt? Can he stay on-message amid the daily meat grinder that is a presidential primary in the age of blogs and Twitter?

Early indications are mixed.

Gingrich has drawn rave reviews -- and won considerable support -- during his trips to Iowa, and his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month was generally well-reviewed.

But, Gingrich seemed put-off -- to put it nicely -- when he was questioned by a student about his personal life last week during an appearance at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gingrich is his own best advocate. He has demonstrated, however, that he can be his own worst enemy too.

Which one will he be in the coming presidential race? The answer to that question will determine whether he is a serious top-tier candidate or an also-ran in a year's time.

Poll shows Palin losing traction in Iowa: A new poll for the Des Moines Register shows former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's (R) image taking a hit among Republicans in Iowa -- a state that would be crucial to her prospects in a presidential race.

The poll shows Palin's favorability rating at 65 percent among Iowa GOPers -- down from 71 percent November 2009. While 27 percent viewed her "very favorably" 14 months ago, only 18 percent do now.

The poll, which was conducted by Selzer and Co., doesn't show a huge shift, but it does show a significant win. And if Palin can't perform in first-in-the-nation Iowa, she would have a tough time getting off the ground, as she polls poorly in the second state, New Hampshire.

Pawlenty says shutdown should be on the table: Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty said this weekend that, if Republicans don't get the spending cuts they want in a new budget, they should consider allowing a government shutdown.

"We've got to get back to certain principles and responsibilities and starting with getting the budget balanced, and if it takes a dramatic moment or a dramatic week or a dramatic month, those kinds of line-in-the-sand moments are what we need to get politicians back up against the wall and have them make the tough decisions," Pawlenty told the generally deflected the question.

GOP governors continue to diverge from Walker: Many Republicans are still reluctant to stand fully behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in his fight against public employee unions -- a point reinforced by two new governors on Sunday.

While South Carolina's Nikki Haley and Arizona's Jan Brewer -- both safe leaders of red states -- wholeheartedly backed Walker, others were more reluctant.

"I'm not going to micromanage Wisconsin from Trenton, New Jersey," said Garden State Gov. Chris Christie on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I think he believes he's doing what's in the best interest of Wisconsin."

Michigan's Rick Snyder was equally cautious, saying that his administration had good relations with state workers' unions. "That's why we have 50 states," Snyder told the Associated Press.

Walker himself defended his approach, telling NBC's "Meet the Press," "This is our moment in Wisconsin's history."

Cain wins tea party straw poll in Phoenix: Talk show host Herman Cain won a GOP presidential straw poll held at the Tea Party Patriots gathering.

Cain took 22 percent and was followed by former Pawlenty at 16 percent and Rep. Ron Paul at 15 percent. Palin was at 10 percent, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was at 6 percent.

Cain, a former executive at Godfather's Pizza, is the only relatively big-name presidential contender with an exploratory committee right now.

Fixbits:

Oregon Rep. David Wu (D) blames some of his erratic behavior on side effects from mental health drugs.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) will decide on whether to make a presidential bid by April, and he says his decision will not be dependent on whoever else gets in the race.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is clarifying some comments he made critical of Romney's effort at universal health care. He said Romney's bill doesn't disqualify him in the GOP presidential primary.

Christie said conservative criticism of Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign is "unnecessary." "I think it's a really good goal to encourage kids to eat better. You know, I've struggled with my weight for 30 years, and it's a struggle," Christie said. Huckabee has also defended the first lady.

Must-reads:

"Experts say Gov. Christie is making all the right moves for a place on national stage" -- Ginger Gibson and Chris Megerian, Newark Star-Ledger

"Florida may face showdown over early 2012 primary" -- William March, Tampa Tribune

"To win the White House, look to the statehouses" -- Rod Pennington, Daily Caller

"Michigan Gov. Snyder offers GOP a less-confrontational model of governing" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | February 28, 2011; 7:58 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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