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Bill Clinton: Is he the Democrats' Newt Gingrich? (+video)

Bill Clinton has been going off-message lately. In a way, he's like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – a senior statesman who says what he thinks, perhaps without thinking through the implications for his 'team,' and gets in trouble.

By Staff writer / June 7, 2012

Former President Clinton and President Obama wave to the crowd during a campaign event at the Waldorf Astoria on June 4 in New York.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Washington

Much has been made of former President Bill Clinton’s recent off-message comments about Mitt Romney, taxes, and the economy. In fact, an entire literature has sprung up around why Mr. Clinton appears, at times, to be acting as a double agent for Mr. Romney.

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Perhaps, one theory goes, ex-President Clinton is trying to undermine President Obama’s reelection prospects as a way to boost his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Another is that he is trying to help Mr. Obama by nudging his campaign away from its criticism of Romney’s business record at Bain Capital, on the idea that that line of attack is counterproductive.

A third is that Mr. Clinton is trying to help himself, as a philanthropist with close ties to Wall Street and other wealthy donors, many of whom are put off by Obama’s populist rhetoric.

But here’s another theory: Clinton is, in some ways, the Democrats’ Newt Gingrich. Both the former president and former House speaker are passionate, smart, ideas-driven politicians with an undisciplined streak and a history of marital infidelity. Last year, Mr. Gingrich came out of retirement as an active politician to run for president, and, like Clinton, said some things that hurt his own team. Exhibit A: calling rising GOP star Paul Ryan’s budget plan “right-wing social engineering.”

Gingrich hadn’t run for office since 1998. Clinton’s last campaign was 1996 – although he was, of course, deeply involved in his wife’s presidential run in 2008. And, lest we forget, Clinton went off-key at times during his wife’s campaign, sayings things about Obama that opened him up to charges of racism, which he vehemently denied.  

Aides to Clinton are promoting the argument that he’s just a bit off his game – still mentally sharp, but out of practice.

“He’s 65 years old,” a Clinton adviser told Politico, in explaining why Clinton said on CNBC Tuesday that the economy is in recession when, in fact, it is not.

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