THERE was ''Silent Cal'' Coolidge. If the Speaker makes it to the presidency, he'll be ''Talkative Newt'' or ''Garrulous Gingrich.''
At the Monitor breakfast the other morning, someone asked him: ''Aren't you beginning to salivate about running for president?'' Mr. Gingrich answered ''yes,'' but hardly stopping for breath he provided this detailed analysis of where he stood with regard to becoming a candidate:
''You [meaning himself] have the No. 1 best-selling nonfiction book in the country. You attract overflow crowds in Des Moines and Waterloo, people standing in the hallway. Obviously, it is very exhilarating. But it also proves you don't have to run for president to make an impact.'' Without a pause the words kept flowing:
''Being Speaker of the House, the way I'm Speaker, being oriented toward ideas and toward communications and spending one-third of my time teaching, we have an enormous impact without being in the White House. So I don't know whether I want to be going from town to town campaigning.
''The moment I become a candidate all of you immediately open up your power of investigation for one more whack at me. I become dramatically less desirable overnight because there is a basic rule of thumb in this business that the next potential candidate is more exciting than the current candidate.
''And I would be reduced to three minutes at various cattle calls [where all the candidates are on the program]. Wherever I go now I get 45 minutes. So becoming a presidential candidate would reduce my ability to convey my message.''
Gingrich talks like that - in bursts of words.
Nearly 50 journalists had packed the Sheraton Carlton's Chandelier Room to hear the Speaker. Explaining why Gingrich was drawing as big a Monitor group as when a president is the guest, one newsman said: ''Gingrich is the driving force in our government today.'' Hearing this observation another newsman said, ''Well, I'd say he's the central actor in our government.''
But Gingrich's main attraction on this particular morning was the reporters' hopes that he would provide some more insights into his presidential aspirations. And, indeed, he took us into his innermost thoughts on this subject.
In fact, any reading of what he was telling us would have to cause us to conclude that Gingrich is already in the race - but in his own fashion. He's running alongside, not with, the declared candidates. This enables him to keep a special spotlight on himself. He meets with the president in New Hampshire. He draws big crowds in Iowa, Indiana, and California. He's injecting himself into the primaries to the extent that he is stirring up a lot of interest in himself wherever he goes.
''Will he run or will he not run?'' he has everyone asking. He's getting as much press all around the country as Bob Dole or Phil Gramm or Pat Buchanan, the leaders among the candidates who run in the old-fashioned way of announcing their intentions.
In a way Gingrich is teasing us - both the public and the media. But no one minds. He's actually making the race more interesting.
At some point, of course, he will have to decide one way or the other. Next winter he'll face a deadline when he'll have to either enter the congressional race for reelection - or not. If the GOP leaders, particularly Dole, have begun to fade, Gingrich will undoubtedly, as he puts it, ''go for it.''
Gingrich reminded us that in 1991, at about this time of the year, ''Bush was in reasonably good shape.'' He mentioned 1971 when Ed Muskie was way out in front for the Democratic nomination and how he plummeted the next year.
So it is that ''Talkative Newt'' runs his unique race. He's running against everyone else but still is running all by himself. It certainly is great entertainment.