WASHINGTON: You wouldn't have thought Newt Gingrich
was going anywhere. The cries of "Newt, Newt, Newt," the standing ovations, the laminated copy of the Contract With America –- all accompanied the outgoing speaker Monday night as he addressed his old buddies at GOPAC. It was trademark Gingrich -- calls for tax cuts, vilification of trial lawyers (who are responsible for exacerbating Y2K misery, we were told) and wild new ideas such as giving everyone their own Social Security investment account. The only sign that something had changed came when the outgoing Speaker endorsed, praised and bear-hugged his successor, Bob Livingston
. Gingrich said he quit for the good of the party; his continued presence would be "an excuse for divisiveness and factionalism."
Curiously enough, that is exactly what is going on in his absence. Livingston's position may be secure, but Majority Leader Dick Armey is in the fight of his life -– against a telegenic former pro footballer (Steve Largent) and a sympathetic female figure (Jennifer Dunn). All of which left observers wondering: Is this the way Newt wanted it? Calm before him, chaos after? "His party definitely wants to keep him in the game," says TIME Washington correspondent Karen Tumulty. That would certainly help the Speaker in any presidential bid two years hence -– about which the newly proclaimed "active citizen" was saying nothing.