ARLINGTON, Va. — Surrounded by friends and family, Newt Gingrich ended his bid for the presidency on Wednesday at a Hilton hotel just outside Washington D.C.
“Today I am suspending the campaign,” he said. “But suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship.”
Gingrich thanked his supporters, singling out billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who “single-handedly came close to matching Romney’s super PAC,” with tens of millions of dollars in independent support for the chronically cash-strapped campaign. Gingrich pledged to continue to advocate for dozens of causes, which he proceeded to list in detail, ranging from a cure for Alzheimer’s to combating Islamic terrorists in Yemen to expanding drilling to — yes — building that moon colony he promised on the campaign trail.
In truth, Gingrich’s campaign, already long dead (or undead), had confirmed it was shutting down in the aftermath of his failure to win any primaries on April 24. But he kept on going to campaign events for days, even as his public schedule openly included an impending “Press Conference To Announce Suspension Of Campaign” on his website.
Still, the candidate who had pledged to shake up Washington trotted out for one last media gathering, just a handful of Metro stops from downtown D.C. That Gingrich’s campaign was ending was unsurprising — the real question surrounding the event was whether he’d endorse Romney, whom he called a liar on the trail, blasted as a “Massachusetts liberal” and accused of destroying blue-collar jobs for personal profit.
So, did Gingrich endorse? Kind of.
Newt began by diminishing the importance of the presidency itself, suggesting that focusing on electing Republican governors, congressmen, senators and state legislatures was more important.
“The presidency matters but so do all the other offices of self government,” he said. “As to the presidency, I’m asked sometimes, ‘Is Mitt Romney conservative enough?’ And my answer is simple: ‘Compared to Barack Obama?’ 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.”
Gingrich cited a number of factors where Romney would be more reliable, including the pet issue of judges that he has long harped on throughout the campaign, insisting the ones appointed by Obama are activists out to railroad the Constitution. In an ironic twist, Gingrich specifically said Romney would work with Paul Ryan on fixing “the entitlement crisis” — the same Ryan whose plan to reorganize Medicare Gingrich called “right-wing social engineering” last year.
But if that sounds short of an endorsement, it is. Gingrich spokesman RC Hammond confirmed after the event that the departing candidate’s statement was not an official endorsement. Hammond did, however, leave the door open to the future.
“Newt Gingrich has every intention to endorse Mitt Romney,” Hammond said. When pressed, he added, “The endorsement’s coming. Call the Romney campaign.”
In the meantime, the Obama campaign is happily showcasing clips this week of Gingrich’s toughest attacks on Romney — almost certainly the most intense between any two primary candidates. Obama himself has cited Gingrich’s “right-wing social engineering” charge in speeches on the Ryan budget.
But back to Gingrich’s future — and that of his grandchildren, Maggie and Robert, whom he frequently invoked as they stood next to him on stage.
“I just want to say I am cheerfully going to take back up the issue of space,” he said. “My wife has pointed out to me approximately 219 times, give or take three, that ‘moon colony’ was probably not my most clever comment in this campaign. I thought, quite frankly in my role providing material for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was helpful.”
Gingrich’s public pledge to achieve an American moon base by the end of his second term may be dead, but he sounded optimistic about its longer-term prospects.
“I am not totally certain I will get to the moon colony,” an Gingrich said earnestly, “I am certain Maggie and Robert will have that opportunity.”
Update: Romney’s campaign issued a statement from the candidate praising Gingrich shortly after his event.
“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. 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.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.