LAST spring, in an attempt to be prophetic and pundit-like, I boldly stated that Republican presidential wanna-be Newt Gingrich had stepped on a political banana peel and fallen flat on his aspirations.
He had, I wrote, "struck out" with the voters.
Why? He kicked off his campaign by apologizing to the religious right for his dubious personal life. He followed that up by denouncing a plan offered by House GOP budget guru Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that would reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion over 10 years by repealing the Democrat's health care bill and reforming entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.
Republicans embraced the plan as holy writ. Gingrich called it "right-wing social engineering."
He then engaged in a number of verbal blunders and other assorted personal embarrassments, all within a couple of weeks of his announced candidacy.
He was, it seemed to me, toast.
Now, to my astonishment, I find that a new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows Newt leading the pack of Republican presidential aspirants.
I guess I should retire to the Home for Bewildered Columnists. Except for this:
It's not exactly a runaway. Gingrich is the favorite of 22 percent of the Republicans while Mitt Romney nips at his heels with 21 percent. Herman Cain is still on the leader board with 16 percent. Rick Perry polls at 8 percent.
His numbers appear to be fueled by a large infusion of cash. According to CNN, Gingrich raised more than $3 million since Oct. 1, with most of the money coming from online donations.
That's more than three times the amount Gingrich raised in the entire third fundraising quarter of 2011, when he pulled in just over $800,000. But it's pocket change compared to Romney's war chest of $32 million.
Nonetheless, I'll admit it's quite a comeback.
And what has Newt done to celebrate his return to celebrity status?
At a recent event at Harvard University, Gingrich offered a unique plan to fight poverty: fire school janitors (at least those who belong to a union) and hire children to clean the schools. He then proceeded to explain that child labor laws are "truly stupid" and blamed "the core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization" for "crippling" children. He did not announce a plan to reemploy the fired janitors.
This past week he advocated allowing younger workers still decades away from retirement to bypass Social Security and instead choose private investment accounts. His announcement came on a day the stock market plunged nearly 250 points.
He characterized the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan entity that provides Congress with information on budgets and the impact that legislation will have on government finances, as a "reactionary socialist institution." Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director and Republican, called the Gingrich allegation "ludicrous."
And just this past week, Gingrich said he thinks the collapse of the Congressional super committee "is good for America," and that the country's debt problem can be solved through the regular work of Congress.
He was apparently unaware of a new Quinnipiac University poll that found voters would blame the Republicans more than the Democrats for the committee impasse.
So Newt is doing it again, shooting himself in the foot with goofy political talk. But don't do what I did. Don't write him off quite so fast.
Gingrich could very well find himself as the Republican who challenges President Obama next year simply because his opponents are proving themselves unworthy and falling like so many autumn leaves.
Michele Bachman, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, at one time darlings of the GOP, are fast becoming yesterday's news. Newt, with his congressional experience and tenure as speaker of the House, appears downright statesmanlike compared to the rest of the GOP contenders, who sound like a pack of angry birds.
It's still too early to declare a winner in the GOP selection process.
But if Gingrich can crank up the cash machine and cool the inflammatory and often bizarre rhetoric, he could make the improbable come true.