COLUMBUS – Newt Gingrich will not be Mitt Romney’s running mate. The former U.S. House speaker has himself admitted that he is not vice presidential material.
But at the state GOP convention this weekend, Gingrich offered up the latest iteration of himself. Until the presumptive Republican presidential nominee makes his decision, Gingrich declared himself ready to fulfill all the duties of a No. 2.
Gingrich wants to be Romney’s Georgia bulldog.
In two speeches to Republicans, his supply of adverbs and adjectives replenished after the exhaustion of a failed contest, Gingrich blistered President Barack Obama and gave a vigorous defense of the man who buried him in the Iowa caucuses under an avalanche of TV attacks.
It might not have been the defense that the former venture capitalist might have ordered up, and still holds echoes of a hard-fought primary. “Who has killed more jobs in their career?” Gingrich asked a crowd of donors on Friday night. “Romney, you could argue – yeah, these companies didn’t quite work. These companies worked and did well. But show me the big Obama success.”
The portion of the evening speech that worried Gingrich most, he said later, was perhaps the most effective – an answer to those Republicans who still have qualms about Romney’s Mormon faith.
“Look, he takes it seriously. It’s a deep part of his life,” Gingrich, a converted Catholic, told the crowd. “He is committed to it. And he understands the desperate importance of religious liberty and keeping government out of our churches and out of our synagogues. And he will be vastly better for every person of religious belief than Barack Obama.”
But more than anything, Gingrich presented himself as a man willing to scorch the earth wherever Obama might go. “I am not for a narrow victory. I am for crushing the left in every single race,” he said, bringing the crowd to its feet.
The former Georgia congressman had one more line in his speech, but knew he had peaked – and so edited himself. Gingrich abruptly walked away from the microphone and waved goodbye.
Afterward, he explained his new, post-campaign strategy. “I’m beginning to lay out a pattern by which, I think, Romney crowds Obama into a very, surprisingly small minority,” he said. “It provides very sharp distinctions between the American people and the president, on issues that Republicans can be excited about.”
On Saturday morning, Gingrich offered up one more area in which he might be of some use to Romney. In an address to the full convention, Gingrich began by pointing to his lapel. “I am wearing a Romney sticker,” the former U.S. House speaker said – setting off the day’s first round of lusty boos from Ron Paul supporters attempting to assert their influence.
Gingrich absorbed those boos, then quickly reached out to the party’s libertarian wing by giving voice to several Paul positions: an audit of the Federal Reserve, one commission to explore a return to hard currency, and another to look at shrinking the number of U.S. military bases overseas.
This weekend’s Republican meeting in Columbus was an off-Broadway appearance for Gingrich. His real debut as a member of the Romney team will come on June 11, when Gingrich and Romney will appear on the same stage at the Cobb Energy Centre – a fundraiser that also will include the current U.S. House speaker, John Boehner.
Beyond the presidential campaign, Gingrich is attempting to restart his private life. His wife Callista has a sequel to her “Ellis the Elephant” children’s book. The couple is working on a film biography of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – similar to ones they’ve already produced on Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan.
“You create a boxed set that way,” he quipped in that Friday night interview.
Gingrich said he’s also negotiating with “a major online university” about offering online lectures – perhaps to pave the way for the major societal changes that Republicans need to pursue.
“I want to remain an active citizen, but it may be that my role as an active citizen is more as a teacher-problem solver-adviser than it is as the next president,” he said with a shrug.
Gingrich has another reason to stay busy. Last week, Forbes magazine pointed to the $4.3 million debt incurred by his campaign, declaring Gingrich to be “America’s most indebted politician.”
Gingrich attended two fundraisers in Columbus this weekend to help pay it down. “I think that over the next couple years, we pay it off. It’s not something which blocks you from being effective,” he said. “But as a responsible person, you feel bad about it. You want to get it solved. And it wasn’t good management. I was always prepared to come out about a million [dollars] in debt, but I wasn’t prepared to have it be this big.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider