As Newt Gingrich moves toward a bid for the right to take on President Obama next year, he's going to have to re-introduce himself to voters.
Gingrich may be remembered for the being the firebrand House Speaker who stood toe-to-toe with President Clinton over budgets and federal spending - forcing two government shutdowns in 1995. Many also remember that Mr. Clinton took advantage of the battle and cruised to re-election the following fall as Gingrich fell from the spotlight.
Gingrich is arguing, however, the shutdown was actually a success from the Republican perspective.
"While the shutdown produced some short-term pain, it set the stage for a budget deal in 1996 that led to the largest drop in federal discretionary spending since 1969. The discipline imposed by this budget - overall spending grew at an average of 2.9 percent a year while I was speaker of the House, the slowest rate in decades - allowed us to reach a balanced-budget deal in 1997," Gingrich wrote last week in The Washington Post.
"This would all have been impossible had Republicans not stood firm in 1995 and shown the American people (and the White House) that we were serious about reducing spending," he added, saying that It was the House Republican caucus alone that paved the way for a balanced budget.
Democrats see it differently. Writing in Politico Thursday, former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost said Gingrich is rewriting history.
"Newt is engaging not just in revisionist history but in a fairy tale," Frost wrote, arguing that blame for the shutdown was rightly placed with Gingrich. He added: "His little adventure almost cost the Republicans control of the House in the 1996 elections."
As the Tea Party-backed Republican emphasis on cutting spending meets the Democrats' desire to cut slowly so as to not jeopardize the economic recovery, the talk of another shutdown is alive and well in Washington.
Gingrich held a public appearance to generate enthusiasm for his presidential bid Thursday just hours before Vice President Joe Biden sits down with House and Senate Republicans in Washington to try to hash out a budget plan to fund the government for the rest of the year.
The appearance is thus well timed from the perspective of trying to separate himself from the other potential 2012 candidates. As Slate and CBS News's John Dickerson points out, Gingrich can remind voters who want to cut spending and reduce the size of government and that unlike anyone else in the GOP field, he's actually done it.
"At a time when Republican activists are looking for leaders who will stick to their policy principles under pressure, there is no conservative candidate--announced or in GOP fantasies--who can match Newt Gingrich's record. In his push to balance the budget he risked, and achieved, two government shutdowns. Before that, he fought a decades-long struggle to build a majority party based on core conservative principles," Dickerson wrote this week.
Additionally, Dickerson argues that Gingrich plays right into the tea party notion of no retreat, no compromise - valuing conservative principles above all else.
"When Republicans are looking for politicians who stick to their guns Gingrich is the real thing," he writes. "The shutdown proved that he was willing to do the unpopular and hard thing to protect conservative principles. That's what they're all looking for. Politicians can say they'll do that. Newt has the scars to prove it."