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The turnaround is not so surprising. With Congress out of session, the unsightly legislative body has been whisked offstage. Individual members are back in their home districts campaigning, buying airtime with their (usually) superior war chests and reminding voters that, however much they may distrust Congress and dislike pork, the advantages of being represented by an incumbent with seniority are hard to deny. After several weeks of White House foreign policy successes, Democrats are also benefiting from a decided uptick in Bill Clinton's popularity -- in the TIME/CNN poll 48% now approve his performance in office, up four points from two weeks ago.
So while Gingrich still spends hours each day planning for "the transition" to a G.O.P. House majority, he is also making plans for a future in which Republicans return to the House as the minority party but a larger one. "At a minimum, we're going to be the strongest we've been since 1954," Gingrich told TIME.
It's not only G.O.P. numerical gains that will make the new Congress more conservative. The freshman Republicans headed there are farther to the right than retiring moderates of their own party like Missouri's John Danforth and Minnesota's Dave Durenberger. "We're a vanishing species," says Senator William Cohen of Maine of G.O.P. centrists like himself. "Let's be precise about it," says Senator Phil Gramm, who has never been called a moderate to his face. "The next Senate will be markedly more antigovernment."
For that, a good part of the credit also goes to Gingrich, who has given ranks of younger G.O.P. candidates their model of armed Republicanism. Through G.O.P.A.C., his political-action committee, Gingrich conducts seminars and sends out thousands of audio- and videotapes to prospective candidates for everything from city council seats to statewide offices, instructing them on how to do in liberal opponents. In Minnesota, House candidate Gil Gutknecht says Gingrich's inspirational tapes were a favorite companion on long commutes. "I stole a lot of his ideas," he happily admits.
That's fine with Gingrich, a onetime assistant professor of history who aspires to be "the leading teacher of 21st century American civilization." Much of his standard speech is drawn from a 10-week course, "Renewing American Civilization," that he taught at Kennesaw State College in Georgia until the school concluded it was not so much political science as political speechifying. (Now he markets a $119.95 videotape version through an 800 number.) The vision it offers is an amalgam of historical trend spotting bathed in the glow of Alvin Toffler's big-picture futurism, with much talk about replacing the "bureaucratic, second-wave, national-market welfare state" with an "information-age, third-wave, world-market-oriented society." In addition to a regular television show on National Empowerment Television, the conservative satellite channel, Gingrich is working on a novel of intrigue set during World War II. Progress has been slowed by the fact that the G.O.P.'s advance man for the future still can't shift paragraphs on his computer screen.