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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The Gingrich campaign has been a nonstop, three-dimensional, multimedia "If by whiskey" speech. If when you say Washington insider you mean the bad guys who are ruining the country, he's against them, but if you mean former Speakers of the House who make millions on K Street, live in McLean, Va., and spend lavishly at Tiffany, then he is one. If by the media you mean the folks Gingrich joshes freely with during late-night sessions in hotel bars, he's a big fan, but if you mean the people who ask unwelcome questions with millions of people watching, he's definitely opposed.

Colleagues who tried to work with Gingrich in Congress aren't surprised by this inconsistency. "The positive thing about Newt is that he is a man with lots of ideas," says Roy Blunt, a Senator from Missouri. "The negative side of that is that those ideas would change in pretty significant ways that you wouldn't have any reason to anticipate."

If by Saul Alinsky you mean the late Chicago community organizer who influenced Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Gingrich promises to save us from his schemes. But if you mean the man who wrote that political-change agents "must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community and fan the latent hostilities," then you are speaking of Gingrich's tactical twin. If by Freddie Mac you mean the cause of the financial collapse, he's on the case, but if you mean his $25,000-per-month client, he's a big fan. If by France you mean that sickly country where socialism runs rampant, God forbid we catch that infection, but if by France you mean a culture where a man's wife and his mistress can sit down for a nice cup of coffee together, hey, maybe they're onto something.

Political Malpractice?

Romney has built a massive campaign on the proposition that he is the Republican best able to defeat Obama in November, but if he can't beat Gingrich in January and February, the entire edifice is liable to tumble. After South Carolina, Romney reached out to Jeb Bush in hopes of getting an endorsement that would boost his chances in Florida. Bush refused, on the theory that a nominee who needs to be propped up is not a nominee worth having. "I think the candidates need to earn it," Bush told me when I asked why he was remaining neutral. "They have 10 days to be compelling to the people of Florida. That test makes them stronger in the fall. Any of them is better than Obama, and they need the primary process to make them strong enough to beat Obama."

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