Election 2012

Will the real GOP candidate please stand up?

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Peter van Agtmael / Magnum for TIME

Former Speaker of the House, and Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, greets supporters at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Anderson, South Carolina on Primary Day, Jan. 21, 2012

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Millions of Republicans, explains Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative talk radio, hear Gingrich and say, "'Finally!' What they want right now is fightback, what they want is pushback, what they want is kickback, what they want is smackdown! What they want is for these people who have been laughing at them and mocking them and impugning them [to be] put in their place."

Another way he's different from Nixon: Gingrich seems comfortable in his abundant skin. His primary regret about the campaign so far, he has said, is that he "hired regular consultants and tried to figure out how to be a normal candidate." Once he remedied that by driving the consultants crazy enough to resign en masse in June, he was liberated. So much for normal.

Inside Operation Newt

Gingrich's day begins and ends with meeting the media. Lacking money to match Romney's ad budget, he starts his interview schedule early. The day of the South Carolina primary, his press bus departed from Charleston at 4 in the morning for a journey upstate, where he gave speeches and pumped hands in the pouring rain. On the trail, he rides a bus with his smiling mug painted across the side to as many as six events a day. Between stops, Gingrich does more interviews, calls local activists and often conducts tele--town halls with voters. He never runs out of things to say, because he is one-half dorm-room philosopher and one-half Fuller Brush man. If he talks in his sleep, surely it's in paragraphs. The day typically winds down at about 9 or 10 p.m., when the bus deposits the candidate and his wife Callista at their hotel, where Gingrich will occasionally join the press corps in the bar and talk some more.

After his Washington consultants ditched him, Gingrich culled a new staff from the outfits he set up after leaving Congress to keep his political career alive while he cashed in the Washington way. (Consultant, novelist, orator, historian--but never a lobbyist!--Gingrich earned more than $3 million in 2010 just for being him.) Michael Krull, his campaign manager, was national director of Gingrich's now shuttered PAC called American Solutions. Press secretary R.C. Hammond, who also migrated from American Solutions, is a regular on Gingrich's bus, along with a handful of other aides and Callista.

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