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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Bare-bones staffing leaves plenty of room for Callista, who accompanies her husband everywhere, dutifully remaining beside him onstage as he delivers a stump speech she has heard a hundred times. Gingrich animates his talks with time-tested bad guys--liberal megadonor George Soros, food-stamp recipients, activist judges and elites in Washington, New York City and San Francisco. Experts thought that wife No. 3 would be a liability for Gingrich, given that she was a much younger congressional staffer with whom he was canoodling while he was pressing for the impeachment of Bill Clinton on sex-related charges. Things aren't working out that way. Instead, he credits her with making a churchgoing, Bible-reading man out of him. After his speeches, husband and wife work the crowd as a pair. When an event includes a book signing, they have a routine in which she handles the small talk as he scrawls his name. Aides describe her role as that of confidante, caretaker and cheerleader, someone who monitors his health, ensures he's getting enough rest and keeps his morale up. "It really, truly is Newt and Callista's campaign," says Andrew Hemingway, 29, who ran Gingrich's New Hampshire operation. "It's very clear that we work for them."

His advisers say he doesn't need coaching, that running Gingrich is as simple as putting him in front of as many voters as possible and letting him channel their myriad frustrations. "He's the campaign's best asset, and the goal is to keep him moving," says Craig Schoenfeld, his senior Iowa adviser, who fled Gingrich in June but returned in November. "He's had a way he wanted to run this campaign. It's not necessarily something that I as a consultant would have bought into. But it's worked. "

Where the Gingrich campaign may falter--where it has already stumbled in Iowa and New Hampshire--is over its shortage of money, inattention to operational details and lack of organizational rigor. Gingrich's choice of venue for his events can be bewildering. He is chronically late, leaving his campaign sound track playing on a loop and nervous introductory speakers fumbling to keep crowds warm. The local Republican Party chairman could only sigh at a rally in Orangeburg, S.C., the day before the primary and ask, "Is he here yet?"

Great Big Contradictory Ideas

Gingrich is proud to be "grandiose." He doesn't just promote an agenda; he "renews American civilization." He reminds himself of a lot of different people, including Charles de Gaulle, the Duke of Wellington and Moses. In his latest incarnation, he might want to add the Mississippi lawmaker Noah "Soggy" Sweat Jr. to his list. Like Gingrich, Sweat had a way with words. Also like Gingrich, he was blissfully free of that foolish consistency that is said to be the hobgoblin of small minds.

Old Soggy is famous for his short speech in the early 1950s on the topic of legalizing alcohol--a model of insincerity and having it both ways. "If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home ... then certainly I am against it," Sweat declared. "But if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips ... then certainly I am for it."

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