Yes, Newt Gingrich suspended his 2012 presidential campaign on Wednesday.
The acerbic, stubborn man who provided the Sturm und Drang of the GOP contest, the candidate who threatened to have “all the way to Tampa” tattooed on his forehead only days ago, formally exited a race that everyone knew had long been over.
“A truly wild ride,” the former U.S. House speaker pronounced. “I could never have predicted either the low points or the high points.”
But do not be confused. Gingrich is still in the middle of a very long goodbye. Even when, in two weeks, he comes back to Georgia to bid a personal farewell to the Republicans who got him started four decades ago, the goodbye won’t even be half finished.
If you’re Mitt Romney, this is something that already concerns you. Gingrich flashed only the latest signal with his less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of the presumptive GOP nominee. If it was an endorsement.
“I’m asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative enough? My answer is simple: Compared to Barack Obama?” Gingrich said during his 25-minute concession speech in the Washington suburbs. “This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history.”
The Gingrich brand has been damaged by a mulish refusal to end his campaign earlier. He admitted as much himself by spending several of the precious, final minutes of his presidential candidacy reciting his accomplishments in a long political career. Even his oldest friends make no excuses.
“After losing Alabama and Mississippi – at that point, we felt the campaign was over, and felt that was the appropriate time to suspend the campaign,” said state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Atlanta, a former Coke executive who met Gingrich 41 years ago – when Wilkinson was laying the groundwork for a 1972 run for U.S. Senate by Howard “Bo” Callaway that never came off.
“Newt’s the one who sat down and said [to Callaway], ‘I don’t think this race makes any sense for you,’” Wilkinson said, appreciating the irony. Callaway didn’t run – and Democrat Sam Nunn took the seat.
Two generations later, Wilkinson had fond hopes for Gingrich and his forceful ideas. “Newt would have been a really great president. I really believe that,” he said. “I also believe that Newt would have been a one-term president because of his bluntness.”
Long-term, the Georgia lawmaker said Gingrich’s overdue departure from the presidential contest shouldn’t hurt Republicans.
But in the short-term, Romney has reason to be suspicious.
As of one month ago, Gingrich’s presidential campaign was $4.3 million in debt – a staggering sum that could take years to pay down. Sen. John Glenn, who ran for president in 1984, finished paying off his $3 million campaign debt in 2007.
It’s conceivable that Gingrich’s personal finances are also in disarray. To keep earning, either as an author or speaker, Gingrich, 68, must stay relevant. But relevance doesn’t lie with becoming a Romney surrogate. Other than a few pro forma handshakes, don’t expect too many joint appearances.
Their clash in Iowa was too brutal. There is no Etch A Sketch big enough. The Obama re-election campaign helpfully reminded everyone of that fact a few hours ahead of Gingrich’s withdrawal, with a YouTube clip that ended with the former U.S. House speaker calling Romney a liar on network TV.
(This despite the Gingrich-affiliated super PAC, Winning Our Future, taking its anti-Romney TV ads out of public circulation on YouTube.)
We have, of course, the example of the once-bitter rivalry between Obama and Hillary Clinton, now secretary of state. But don’t kid yourself. A Senate confirmation isn’t any part of Gingrich’s future.
Gingrich himself pointed out where he was headed last week, in a series of talking points that his campaign issued to supporters willing to hang on until the bitter end. Gingrich declared he would be “helping John Boehner keep the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and regain a Republican majority in the Senate.
“Newt believes that achieving a governing coalition of Republicans in Congress is as important as winning the presidency,” the memo said.
Through the general election, Romney will have two rivals to contend with. One will be Obama, who has shown he understands the power of incumbency in an election year. The other will be tea party-driven House Republicans out to prove that retreat isn’t part of their vocabulary.
House Republican campaigns – with Gingrich’s help – are likely to become a hothouse of ideas for implementing the promises of 2010. And Romney will be pressed to accept or refuse each one, even as he attempts to woo more centrist independents. Gingrich will help generate those volatile ideas.
“The election is just an interim step. And then you have the next struggle,” Gingrich said Wednesday. “If you want really big change, the election just starts the dance. It doesn’t end it.”
No, Newt’s long goodbye has just barely started.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider