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And Newt shall lead them

In serious conversations among Republicans since their election debacle Tuesday, what name is mentioned most often as the Moses, or Reagan, who could lead them out of the wilderness before 40 years?

To the consternation of many Republicans, it is none other than Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House.

Skill and energy

Gingrich is far from a unanimous or even a consensus choice to run for president in 2012. But there is a strong feeling in Republican ranks that he is the only leader of their party who has shown the skill and energy to attempt a comeback quickly.

Even one of his strongest supporters for president in 2012 admits it is a "very risky choice." But Republicans are in a desperate mood after the fiasco of John McCain's seemingly safe candidacy.

Republicans appear chastened by the failure of seeking moderate, independent and even Democrat votes. They are ready to try going back to the "old-time religion."

One Republican critic of Gingrich concedes that he has an "unlimited" energy flow and a constant stream of ideas, an important commodity in a party that appears to have run short of ideas during the Bush years.

But there is widespread concern about what is described in the party as deep "character flaws" of Gingrich's that would be difficult to overcome in a presidential campaign.

Nobody in Republican ranks, however, matches Gingrich's dynamism.

Democrat flaws

The consternation among Republicans is concentrated on McCain's failure to capitalize on Democrat flaws.

It would be a rocky road for Gingrich to the nomination, much less the presidency, but there are no other serious candidates inside the party at the moment.

What's clear is that Republicans are unanimous in trying to avoid a repeat of what happened this year, and there is a surprising consensus that McCain was going in the wrong direction and was the wrong candidate.

What one GOP critic calls Gingrich's "unlimited energy supply" must be overcome by anyone opposing him. Several old Republican hands feel that Gingrich in 2012 is no more outrageous than Ronald Reagan was in 1980.

Deep-seated ambition

What is certain is that Gingrich has the desire and the will. He has a deep-seated ambition. He had not even settled into the House speaker's chair in 1995 when he confessed to me his presidential desires for 1996.

That was not to be, but he never abandoned the personal dream and is ready to pursue it now.

Robert Novak is the retired Chicago Sun-Times political columnist.

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