Newt Gingrich may have thrown in the towel, but could things have turned out ...

Inside the beltway - Newt Gingrich may have thrown in the towel, but could things have turned out differently?

Inside the beltway - Newt Gingrich may have thrown in the towel, but could things have turned out differently?

Newt Gingrich's unexpected decision to retire provides several good lessons in PR. His relentless drive put the GOP in the majority in 1994.

But he remained unknown to most Americans, other than C-SPAN viewers and GOPAC donors, only to seize the spotlight as Speaker with a high-profile media strategy. But being chief strategist for the outs, and also House Speaker, required two very different sets of skills. Newt's legacy as Speaker leaves five significant lessons.

Lesson one: First impressions count. No Speaker had such an out-front role in the national news media. Gingrich, early on, appeared too often on TV lecturing and hectoring. Such overheated rhetoric never played well on TV, appearing too partisan, too uncool for today's cynical, detached electorate. Once that impression was set, try as he might to be more statesmanlike, it would never be accepted by the public, and only made the caucus more distrustful. His much-publicized ethics and marital problems, books, and desire to save civilization did him little good either.

Lesson two: Don't overpromise. Swelled by the '94 victory, Gingrich talked big about what the Republican House majority could accomplish Much of the Contract with America did pass, but hopes had been built up even higher among conservatives. After the contract, the House GOP's record was mixed - and crucially, it never articulated clear, compelling legislative goals.

Lesson three: Issues matter. Some Republicans argue the party tried, without success, to address issues such as education and taxes. But Team Gingrich shares a good part of the blame for the GOP's inept actions and weak message this year. Take it from this GOP strategist: 'We probably should have almost maniacally focused on cutting taxes, reforming Government, working on saving Social Security.' The strategist's name: Newt Gingrich.

Lesson Four: Prioritize. Gingrich redefined the Speaker's role from one that provided leadership to the House from the podium and the backroom, to one that added the role of national party spokesman. It proved an uneasy fit. Newt started off trying to do too much, too fast, with too little public support. Then, he didn't seem to be doing enough.

Lesson five: Be prepared. Newt plunged into some battles, most notably the 1995 budget, never really prepared to take the heat that would come his way. If he'd stuck to his guns, would things have been different?

Many conservatives think so. But public opinion changes as the situation changes, and victory can be won when defeat appears imminent. But once that battle was lost, Newt's 'revolution' became a put-down insurrection.

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