The Newt Gingrich Relevancy Project

Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images Republican presidential hopefuls and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich speaks during the Republican Presidential Candidates debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library September 7, 2011 in Simi Valley, California. Eight Republican candidates are debating to define the party’s nominee to take on US President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. AFP PHOTO/ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

First Paul Bedard did it, and now Scott Conroy does it: Make an argument that Newt Gingrich is increasingly relevant to the 2012 race.

Though Gingrich has not exactly surged in the polls, he has been in fourth place among the declared GOP candidates in the last several national surveys and has been trending upward in the RealClearPolitics polling average.

Conroy keeps himself honest with a link to the polls. What do we learn from them? Well, Gingrich’s campaign imploded in the first weeks of June. The day his team quit, Gingrich was at 7.3 percent in national polling, in fourth place. He tumbled as low as 4.3 percent in August. He has surged back to… 6.6 percent. Not bad, until you realize he started the race at 14.4 percent. Gingrich’s fall from his peak has been slightly steeper than Bachmann’s – she went from 14 percent to 7.7 percent. He’s not climbing, but he’s surviving. Because debates include candidates based on polling, and not on whether the campaign is financially viable, it’s enough to give Gingrich the continued glow of the spotlight.

But how is he a factor?

In aggressively challenging the approach taken by debate hosts ranging from Fox News to MSNBC, Gingrich has positioned himself as the voice of the besieged, and that has won him some accolades among the Republican rank and file… the campaign says that it has been inundated with encouragement and offers of support on the heels of the candidate’s recent debate performances.

That’s good for Gingrich, but does it matter to the rest of the field? Not really, not at all. There are heated policy debates happening between the top tier candidates, egged on by the second (Paul, Bachmann, Huntsman) and third (Santorum) tiers. Gingrich isn’t engaging in the debates. He derides moderators whenever they try to get him to criticize fellow Republicans, as if presidential primaries were not chances for the parties to define what they’ll run on, what they stand for. Gingrich is campaigning independently of the field. You can see the finish line in his eyes: Enhanced stature, new requests for TV and speaking jobs, new books. This was especially clear in the last Republican debate after Gingrich dismissed a question about the Romney-Perry Social Security fight – something that neither candidate has had to expand on, policy-wise – by blaming Obama for preventing a utopian outcome.

You get back to a full employment economy, and at four percent unemployment you have such a huge increase in funding, that you change every single out year of projection in a positive way.

Well, there we go! The upshot I see: Gingrich isn’t actually affecting the race, but he’s fun to cover.