Only Newt Gingrich could turn the rote task of suspending a presidential campaign into riveting theater. Gingrich wrapped up a “truly wild ride” Wednesday the same way he conducted it, delivering an overly long (23 minutes), ragged yet somehow spellbinding speech. It was vintage Newt: bombastic, bewildering, but never boring.
Bucking pressure from his party to heal the rifts of a bitter primary, Gingrich did not offer a clear endorsement of Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. ”I’m asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative enough? And my answer is simple: compared to Barack Obama?” Gingrich said. “This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan.” In a long list of tepid Romney endorsements, his was the most begrudging, if it was even an endorsement at all.
While Gingrich’s couldn’t bring himself to fully endorse his rival, Romney took the high road. “Newt Gingrich has brought creativity and intellectual vitality to American political life. During the course of this campaign, Newt demonstrated both eloquence and fearlessness in advancing conservative ideas,” he said in a statement distributed by his campaign. “Although he long ago created an enduring place for himself in American history, I am confident that he will continue to make important contributions to our party and to the life of the nation. Ann and I are proud to call Newt and Callista friends and we look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead as we fight to restore America’s promise.”
As for the nature of that work, Gingrich signaled he would focus on a series of issues that came to the fore during his ragged campaign, including energy independence, American exceptionalism, religious liberty, and private Social Security savings accounts. “I am cheerfully going to take back up the issue of space,” he promised. From reviving his documentary production enterprise to touring the country in service to conservative principles, Gingrich’s post-campaign plans sounded exhausting. “The election is just an interim step, and then you have the next struggle,” he said.
Cable commentators panned Gingrich’s final act. “One of the worst farewells I’ve ever seen,” declared Republican strategist Ed Rollins. But it was quintessential Gingrich, encapsulating the eclectic nature of Gingrich’s interests, both high-minded and low. He careened from unemployment compensation to religious liberty, the Federalist papers to silly digs about Saudi kings. For all his faults, Gingrich remains one of the leading voices the party has, and he left little doubt that he isn’t planning to exit the national stage. “He still has a lot to contribute to the national debate,” says Republican strategist Scott Reed. Certainly Gingrich thinks so.