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A Nixonian comeback for Newt?

Dear Newt:

Now that you're gone you are getting lots of advice. The polls would tell us that most people would like to see you disappear from public life. Americans will be happy if you just go back to teaching - anything but being in politics.

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But in an informal questioning of some of our journalist breakfasters I found that they all thought that some way, somehow, "Newt will be back." So do I.

Some of these observers say they think you will be running for president if the opportunity emerges. They, like Washington Post columnist David Broder, see your big chance coming in 2004, if in the meantime Al Gore or some other Democrat has become president.

I differ on the timing - and that's what this letter is all about. I think you should "lie down and bleed for a while" (As that Scottish warrior did in that old ballad) and then, as he did, stand up on the battlefield and fight again. But "again" - for you - should be "very soon."

I agree with what some of my colleagues are saying about your looking to Richard Nixon for your rehabilitation plan. But I think that Nixon - were he in your shoes - would be running for president next time around and not waiting for six years. And I'll tell you why.

I was one of only a handful of reporters who was with Nixon in 1960 when, shortly after his narrow loss to Kennedy for president, he made a tour of the country to raise funds to pay for his campaign debts. Nixon was bitter. He said he had been "robbed," that it was only mob-produced votes in some of the big cities that had given his opponent the slender victory. But he was not, as some historians have described him, in the throes of despair. It soon became clear to those of us who sat with him on these plane rides that a surprisingly rejuvenated Richard Nixon was beginning to think about a comeback.

And very soon Nixon was taking on Pat Brown for governor of California - and, again, being thumped badly. Here Nixon, himself, seemed to be writing his departure from the political wars when in the wake of another bitter defeat he told the press that it "wouldn't have Nixon to kick around anymore." But within a few months I had an interview with him in which he made it clear that he was opening the door, at least a crack, to another run at the presidency. And very soon from my post in New York I began to see that while Nixon had started a law career in that city he was already pulling together these skillful people who would soon become the nucleus of his 1968 effort to win the presidency.

No, you are not Nixon. He had the cold-war issue that he could thump. But he also had deficits that you would share: There was that widespread hatred of Nixon from millions of people who viewed him as an alley fighter who had used McCarthy-like tactics in shaping his rise.

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You have your "following" of detractors, too, Newt. The polls tell us that. But if Nixon could overcome his, you might do the same.

No, again, I don't say that you could win if you ran for the presidency in 2000. Indeed, you look as much a sure loser as Nixon did before his 1968 bid. But if you follow Nixon's route, you go for it anyway.

You might surprise everybody in the presidential primaries. Look how the conservative Republicans turn out and cheer for you at fund-raisers. People listen to your every word.

But say you lose in 2000, you still would be building for your political future. And I think your future is in politics. You'll get tired of going out to the zoo and throwing peanuts to the elephants.

Finally, I cannot - and won't - say that your coming back into the political ring would be good for the country. That's something you still would have to prove.

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