IF YOU'RE a Newt Gingrich-hater (despite his recent surge of popularity, there seems to be a segment of the population that can't stand the guy), I've got some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that Newt's tenure as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is likely to be brief.
The bad news is that you might want to start making peace with an idea that is certain to send you screaming into the cold and bitter night: President Gingrich.
Impossible, you say? Newt Gingrich isn't even running for president, you say?
It is possible that not all politicians in America may realize it on any given day, but every one of them is running for president.
Living in the White House is every politician's dream. At one time or another, if not each and every morning, every politician looks into the mirror and hears those majestic words: "Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States."
You're thinking that Newt Gingrich barely has his feet wet as speaker of the House. You're thinking that he's a relative newcomer to the national consciousness . . . a newcomer with a penchant for controversy, no less.
True enough. But at this time of cataclysmic upheaval in American politics, these seeming disadvantages work in his favor.
For Newt Gingrich, the speakership is a blank canvas to be painted in colors of his own choosing. He can make of this new job whatever he wants to make of it.
And if the country doesn't know him all that well, so much the better. Most of the other Republicans being mentioned as presidential candidates have been on stage too long. The public is bored with them.
Football fans keep their eyes on the "hot team." Horse racing enthusiasts search for the "now horse," the one that has been winning races and burning up the track in morning workouts.
Well, folks, Newt Gingrich is the "now" politician. He's the hottest entry in the political playoffs and he's getting hotter every day.
Newt Gingrich is the reigning spokesman for the conservative philosophy that is sweeping the country, the conservative groundswell that propelled the Republican takeover of Congress November's elections.
These days, even Rush Limbaugh defers to Newt.
Most important of all, Newt Gingrich knows how to work the media. Nobody does it better, not even Bill Clinton, who was the media manipulation champion of the world until Newt Gingrich stepped into the ring.
When the media tried to discredit Newt Gingrich over his advocacy of orphanages, he went on TV and as host of a showing of "Boys Town," the orphanage movie to end all orphanage movies. When they blasted him for a multimillion-dollar book deal, he called a news conference and announced he was giving back the money, coolly cutting off his critics at the knees.
And when confronted with a TV interview in which his mother told Connie Chung that he had called Hillary Clinton a "bitch," Newt Gingrich slammed the ball back into Connie Chung's face, and skewered the anchorwoman and her network for being unethical and unprofessional.
Other politicians would have spent days, weeks or months trying to explain why they called the first lady a nasty name. Newt Gingrich became an instant public hero, defending his mother's honor and leaving a prominent member of the media elite lying in a pool of blood.
When you're hot, you're hot.
Newt Gingrich probably hasn't spent much time thinking about all this. He has been plenty busy, after all, in gearing up to ramrod his ideas through Congress.
But the 1996 election draws ever nearer. Unless a Bob Dole or a Phil Gramm or a Jack Kemp suddenly catches fire with the voters (and don't bet on that), it will eventually become obvious to everyone that Newt Gingrich is the Republicans' logical choice to challenge Bill Clinton in '96.
Newt-lovers, rejoice. Your man is headed for the mountaintop.
Gingrich-haters, get used to it: President Gingrich.
Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.