Every four years, Iowa is home to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, so when Newt Gingrich showed up at the Iowa State Fair in August, it raised the obvious question about what his plans are for the next couple years.
"If I decide to run, it will be because I think there's a real chance to win, and help the American people reorganize this country to get it back to success again. If I just want to make noise, I can make noise without being a candidate, it's a lot less expensive," Gingrich told Fox News about his presidential considerations.
But forget inexpensive. The former House speaker's noisemaking can be downright lucrative. Since he left Congress in 1998, Gingrich has written 15 books, produced six documentaries, made hundreds of appearances on the speaking circuit and signed on as a Fox News contributor.
Indeed, Gingrich has become a veritable "ideas conglomerate" that produces advice and strategy for any Republican who wants to listen, including those in the new House majority.
"They have to take up repeal of the Obama health plan because their base absolutely demands it. They have to take up spending cuts and they have to stop the tax increases," Gingrich said.
In 1994, GOP House candidates signed Gingrich’s "Contract With America" and gained 52 seats and a House majority. Gingrich became the first Republican speaker in 40 years, and from that perch he helped force then President Bill Clinton’s sharp post-election turn to the middle.
“In 1996, we reformed welfare, we reformed Medicare and saved it from going bankrupt and we re-elected the Republicans for the first time since 1928,” he said.
But by 1998, after a politically disastrous government shutdown, an ugly impeachment battle, a messy ethics investigation and dissension in GOP ranks, Gingrich left the House. Just a few years later, Republican lawmakers were being accused of the same bad Beltway behavior as the Democrats they defeated. Democrats regained the House in 2006.
Several conservative analysts say Gingrich is a solutions-driven guy and has big ideas. But every once in a while he's a grenade-thrower and he goes too far. Gingrich doesn’t dispute the characterization.
“You know, you have these two extremes. A party with no ideas and a party with a lot of ideas. Now, a party with no ideas gets almost no bad press because it gets no press at all. A party with a lot of ideas occasionally does things that don't quite work,” he said. “Every once in a while, I have to say, ‘Well, that one wasn't all that clever, was it?’”
If Gingrich does run for president, he will have to face uncomfortable questions about his personal life. He admitted cheating on his second wife with a congressional staffer while leading the move to impeach President Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Gingrich married that staffer, Callista Bisek, in 2000.
He acknowledges the baggage but says if the country needs him voters may focus on his problem-solving skills.
"I think it depends on what the American people want to focus on. I think if you think the country's in trouble, if you think we need to go back to first principles in terms of the Constitution, people may say, 'You know, Newt's been around a long time, he's the guy who can actually fix it.'"
And he does have many ideas on how to cut spending.
"First of all, you can go back to the discretionary spending of 2008. That gets you about a trillion dollars over the next decade, which is real money. ... I think you've got to fundamentally rethink unemployment compensation. I think it ought to become a training program. I would argue (to) overhaul procurement in the Pentagon. It's absurd to take 15 or 20 years to get a weapons system," he said.
Perhaps more than any potential 2012 candidate, Gingrich is focused on the danger posed to America by radical Islam.
"The biggest short-term threat is clearly radical Islamists and the fact that they methodically get up every (day) trying to find ways to kill us. These things are all real," he said, adding that Iran is another challenge.
"Iran is a security threat because in the short-run it's financing a lot of terrorism. But in the long-run, they are going to get nuclear weapons at the rate things are going."
Gingrich said he also doesn't make much of the Obama administration's contention that other countries like the United States more since the 2008 election.
"The North Koreans flouted their missile and nuclear capability, nothing happened. The Iranians continued to build weapons, nothing happens. They're playing with fire and national security's a very dangerous area."
Watch “Special Report With Bret Baier” through Nov. 19 for the series “12 in ‘12” -- profiles of potential GOP contenders for the White House.