Does time heal all wounds?

Will John Edwards someday be the new Newt Gingrich?

Where did this crazy question come from? To get the answer, read on.

First, we should wrestle with the questions political experts have been stuttering over since Gingrich’s stunning upset of Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary last weekend.

How can a candidate like Gingrich get over the deathblows his campaign suffered in Iowa and New Hampshire?

How can he sidestep the disgrace from the damning condemnation of his colleagues in the House of Representatives who censured him for misconduct 15 years ago?

How can he get around the moral consequences of his conduct in the breakup of two earlier marriages?

How does he get around the lack of support from people who worked with him when he was House speaker?

How does he get around the panic shown by so-called establishment Republicans who believe his nomination for president would lead to a disaster for their party in the fall?

How can these questions be answered? It would be easy to say, simply, that South Carolina voters are different. From John C. Calhoun to Strom Thurmond, South Carolinians have shown a fondness for brilliant, confrontational, no-holds-barred, attack- dog politicians. Newt fit their bill. But what about other states?

Both Calhoun and Thurmond had fans in other states. How about Gingrich? We will begin to find out next week in Florida.

Whatever the results in Florida and elsewhere, Gingrich has shown that time really can heal old wounds in politics. Even the most conservative religious voters in South Carolina showed that they were willing to forgive the sins of a seemingly penitent person.

The South Carolina results show us that, after the passage of time, voters are not bound by earlier judgments about a politician’s sins.

John Edwards may be trying to take advantage of this lesson.

The health problem that was the basis for the delay in his trial is a real one. An irregular heartbeat has bothered Edwards for many years. Still, delay may be part of his trial team’s strategy.

Every delay puts the management of the trial further away from the influence of the zealous investigation and prosecution led by former U.S. Attorney George Holding. He is running for Congress rather than continuing to lead the determined effort to put Edwards in jail.

Greater and greater distance from Holding increases the possibility that less-driven prosecutors will see the benefits of making a deal with Edwards that would free them to concentrate their efforts on getting other criminals off the streets.

Every delay works to distance the minds of potential jurors from the heavy and negative publicity that accompanied Edwards’s downfall. With the passing of time, jurors may be less likely to punish Edwards simply for being the bad person the news stories made him out to be.

Every delay lessens public interest in the case and the strength of any public demand that he be held accountable.

Every delay puts the public’s memory further away from his relevance as a public figure whose extraordinary gifts almost made him a vice president, almost a president.

Thus every delay could increase the chances that Edwards will win an acquittal if the case ultimately goes to trial, or even more likely, that there will be an acceptable plea bargain offer from prosecutors.

Back to our opening question: If Edwards does walk away from his legal troubles, could he, with the passage of time, say 10 years from now, bring his gifts of persuasion and charisma back into the political arena and have some of those who have written him off today declare him to be the new Newt Gingrich?

The Republican nominee: It's going to be Rick Perry

Don’t write off Rick Perry.

You ask, why not?

Because he is going to be the Republican nominee for President and will give Barack Obama a heck of a race next fall.

You are laughing, aren’t you?

If I had made this prediction six weeks ago, you would not have laughed. No, you would have said something like, “Well maybe” or “probably so.”

You would not have been laughing like you are now. You might have let me know that I was stating the obvious and given me a big “So what!”

Not now though.

The last few weeks have not been kind to the governor of Texas.

After his near coronation as Republican nominee when he formally entered the race in August, it has been mostly downhill for Perry:

*The surfacing of remarks made in 1992 in which Perry disparaged North Carolina barbecue, saying that Texas road kill was better.

*Calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme.

*Poor ratings from the media on his performance in the debates with other candidates.

*Press reports about a sign that used a racially charged word to identify his family’s leased hunting ranch,

*The meteoric rise of Herman Cain in the polls and the imaginations of conservative voters.

*Perry’s collapsing poll numbers.

The political pundits have declared him to be road kill. (Remember: North Carolina barbecue is better!) They have moved the conversation from Perry to their current view that Mitt Romney is the almost certain Republican nominee.

So, why do I think Perry will rise again?

First of all, remember John McCain’s campaign for the 2008 nomination. Starting out strong, his campaign faltered in the summer and early fall of 2007. His poll numbers declined. Money ran out. Staff left. Like they did Perry, the pundits wrote him off.

In the early winter, he came back, beating Romney in New Hampshire and surging to the nomination.
Today, Perry has strengths and resources that put him in a better position for a comeback than McCain’s situation in October 2008:

*McCain had run out of money to conduct his campaign. Perry, on the other hand, raised $17 million in the last quarter, more than any other Republican candidate.

*Like McCain in 2008, Perry is not Mitt Romney. So far polls show that 75 percent of Republicans are still unwilling to register support for the current favorite to win the nomination, even though they know him well. While establishment Republicans have lined up behind him, Romney does not excite the “non-country club” voters. Thus, if and when there is a single credible opponent facing Romney, that opponent stands a good chance of winning the nomination.

*None of the other announced candidates are “credible.” Herman Cain is exciting and provocative but will not survive the spotlights that blind an inexperienced candidate. The others are already toast. Perry has been singed but is still very much alive.

*As governor of a large state where money talks, Perry can squeeze more money to fund his campaign.

*Most important, as former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told me a few weeks ago, Perry is “comfortable in his boots.” He talks and acts like the kind of person you would be happy to sit down with and drink coffee—or beer. In this respect, he compares to Ronald Reagan, who, even if you did not like his policies, you liked him. Romney might be just as nice, but he projects stiffness and superiority. In a close contest, the nice, comfortable candidate wins.

So there you have it.

Perry will be the Republican nominee.

But before you place your bets, I need to tell you something. Four years ago I was just as sure Fred Thompson was going to run away with the Republican nomination because he was the only candidate who was “comfortable in his boots.”