Hail Caesar

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: TIME's Jay Carney reports that Bill Paxon's resignation from the House GOP leadership means the Gingrich coup has failed. "Paxon jumped before he was pushed," he says. "As chair of the leadership meetings, Paxon isn't elected to the leadership. He served at Gingrich's pleasure. So when Gingrich found out about the incipient uprising, he took his anger out on him." That uprising might have come off had Brutus, Cassius et al been able to decide who would be the new colossus. "It was supposed to be a bloodless coup," says Carney, "with Dick Armey, Paxon, and (GOP Whip) Tom Delay coming to Newt and telling him: 'we can't control the rank-and-file insurgents any more.' They were going to give him an ultimatum, and Gingrich would have had to step down, without making a scene in front of the Democrats." But after a series of post-midnight meetings late last week, the cabal's resolve apparently disintegrated in a succession squabble and Armey backed down, leaving lots of red-faced conspirators and, according to sources, a veritably ballistic Gingrich. Not to mention some exposed buttocks. "Armey's people are now denying he was ever a part of it," says Carney, "thus laying it on Paxon." Paxon, meanwhile, has taken the fall while insisting his role in the plot has been grossly overstated. "The interesting dynamic to emerge here is the martyrdom of Bill Paxon," says Carney. "He was loyal to Gingrich for a long time, and by resigning quickly, he might escape the fallout from this. When the end does come for Gingrich, it could well be Paxon who's the rising star for the GOP leadership."