Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
This week in politics, the biggest news is barely news.
In the last days of February, reports surfaced that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was expected to announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee "in 10 days," a move that would signal the most concrete intention among a big field of hopefuls to run for the Republican nomination in 2012. The "in 10 days" timeframe came from Gingrich's lawyer, who was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Then, just yesterday, the internet was buzzing with the revelation that Gingrich would announce his committee not in 10 days, but in two: the Des Moines Register reported that according to Joe Gaylord, longtime political advisor to the former Speaker, Thursday was the day.
Then, later that night, Gingrich's spokesman, Rick Tyler, gave a written statement that included the following clarification: "To be clear, while Speaker Gingrich is in Georgia on Thursday, he will NOT announce the formation of an exploratory committee."
And then, Fox News suspended Newt Gingrich's contributor contract (along with Rick Santorum's) until he decides whether he's gunning for president. "We can't have Speaker Gingrich on our payroll while he is in the midst of an exploratory committee to see if he's going to run for office," Dianne Brandi, Fox News' executive vice president of legal and business affairs told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a clear conflict."
So basically, the story here is that people who do not speak for Newt Gingrich made comments about an exploratory committee to local newspapers, and then those comments were picked up by national wires, without Gingrich's official spokesman—or the man himself—saying a word.
The readiness to report these speculations is understandable. In February, Gingrich told Fox News' Sean Hannity that he would make a decision about an exploratory committee by early March; he later told ABC's This Week the same thing.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Gingrich made similar comments about raising money and considering a run four years ago. Then he backed out.
In this case, forming an exploratory committee isn't even a declaration of candidacy. It's more like saying, "I've been thinking about running for president, but now I'm really going to think about it." It would make it easier for Gingrich to conduct polling, raise money, and hire a staff, but that's all. Still, it would show that Gingrich is more committed to a 2012 run, at least on paper, than Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and almost every other Republican who's name comes up in the conversation (excepting Herman Cain, former Senate candidate and CEO of Godfather's Pizza, who is the first and only hopeful to form their committee).
As these other GOP hopefuls come out of the woodwork and announce their own exploratory committees, we can expect a lot more of these false alarms. For perspective, one might turn to an unlikely example: Donald Trump. Yes, Donald Trump.
Last October, Trump told Fox News, "For the first time in my life, I'm actually thinking about it [running for president]." Nevermind that almost exactly 11 years earlier, Trump said nearly the same thing to Larry King, this on the eve of forming a presidential exploratory committee in advance of the 2000 race. By February of that year, Trump had backed out, citing issues first within the Republican Party, and then within the Reform Party, which Trump joined after giving up on the GOP.
The Donald jumped the gun on favorable polling in 1999, without even being totally committed to a political party. Bad move.
Newt is a much more serious politician than Donald Trump, but the latter's is a cautionary tale about getting into the ring before you're ready. This isn't to suggest a false equivalence between the two. Rather, we should simply remember to take all these murmurs with a big grain of salt: Gingrich has to tread lightly, and an exploratory committee doesn't mean that much in the first place.
In summation: Newt Gingrich has not announced that he will announce that he will form a committee that will determine if he should announce that he's running for president. Confused? Don't be. Nothing has happened.