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Gingrich, a DOMA Architect, Returning to D.C. as Talking Head

The Defense of Marriage Act was the biggest legislative victory for social conservatives that Newt Gingrich was able to engineer as speaker of the House. This morning, an hour before that law was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the peripatetic Georgia Republican and failed presidential candidate announced he was leaving traditional politics altogether.

He’s going to become a full time television talking head.

CNN announced that it was resurrecting “Crossfire,” the progenitor of so many cable TV shows formatted to turn into screaming matches, and that Gingrich would anchor the “on the right” half of the table every weeknight starting this fall, along with S.E. Cupp, a conservative columnist who’s currently a regular on MSNBC.

The more prominent half of the “on the left team” will be Stephanie Cutter, who was most recently deputy campaign manager for Obama’s re-election campaign after serving in senior communications and strategy positions in the West Wing. She also has Hill experience, having worked in the Senate for Barack Obama, Majority Leader Harry Reid and the late Edward M. Kennedy. Her partner will be Van Jones, the founder of the economic think tank Rebuild the Dream.

“Crossfire” became must-watch nightly TV inside the Beltway when it aired in 1982, back in CNN’s infancy, with conservative Pat Buchanan and liberal Tom Braden as the original hosts. And it lasted an astonishing 23 years with a range of different frontmen. (Virtually all of them were white men; in its new format Gingrich will be the lone Anglo male in the quartet.) By the time of its initial demise in 2005, however, it had become a source of bipartisan ridicule and disdain, criticized widely as doing as much as anything else in the mainstream media to cheapen public discourse, polarize even the most collaborative congressional colleagues and trivialize Washington’s most serious policy debates.

“Few programs in the history of CNN have had the kind of impact on political discourse that Crossfire did,” Jeff Zucker, the head of the network, said in his announcement. “We believe the time is right to bring it back and do it again. We look forward to the opportunity to host passionate conversation from all sides of the political spectrum. Crossfire will be the forum where America holds its great debates.”

If that format holds, it would seem to be an ideal way for the 70-year-old Gingrich to capstone his career. His presidential run last year could be encapsulated as Gingrich proving he was a world-class debater but a not-ready-for-the-whole-nation candidate. While his organization was wanting and his steady stream of outside-the-box proposals failed to captivate the GOP base, his performances in interviews and confrontations with the other candidates were invariably punchy and provocative.

Gingrich worked to engineer the enactment of DOMA, which drew nearly unanimous support from his fellow House Republicans, despite high-profile appeals that he back off made by his mother and his half-sister Candace, who was a gay rights advocate.

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