Newt Gingrich takes the political stage one last time Wednesday, so he can leave it – at least for now.
At 3 p.m., at a Hilton Hotel in Arlington, Va., the former House speaker will formally suspend his presidential campaign, after informally suspending it a week ago. This, after issuing a pre-suspension farewell video to his supporters on Tuesday.
But no one who knows Mr. Gingrich expects him to disappear from the stage altogether. Despite all the sturm und drang that marked his candidacy, he still relishes public life and all the attention and adulation that go with it.
At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last Saturday night, while some celebrities scowled over being skewered, Gingrich was clearly pleased when President Obama referred to him jokingly as his “likely opponent,” followed by, “Newt, there’s still time, man!”
In fact, in the video, Gingrich described a future that sounds an awful lot like a continuing campaign.
“I want you to know that we’re going to continue out there on the road,” Gingrich said. “Both Callista and I will be talking, campaigning, making speeches, doing everything we can to help defeat Barack Obama.”
What he didn’t do in the video was mention the presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, or the wealthy benefactor, Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who shelled out more than $10 million to the “super PAC” that supported Gingrich by tearing down Mr. Romney.
We can assume that Gingrich will endorse Romney sooner or later, and that Mr. Adelson has been properly thanked, off-camera. But there are other matters lingering from the campaign that might be harder to sort out. There’s the $4.3 million in campaign debt, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report. There’s his empire of for-profit and nonprofit entities that has grown a little tattered during his time as a candidate. Gingrich’s health-care think tank, the Center for Health Transformation, filed for bankruptcy last month.
Then there’s his relationship with Fox News. Until March 2011, he had a lucrative contract with the network. Then when he started making moves toward running for president, Fox suspended him. Now it may be hard for Gingrich to go back, after recent remarks criticizing Fox at a private meeting in Delaware.
According to RealClearPolitics, which was granted access to the meeting, Gingrich complained that the Fox News Channel and Rupert Murdoch – chairman and CEO of its parent company, News Corp. – were in the tank for Romney.
“I think Fox has been for Romney all the way through,” Gingrich said April 11 during the private meeting at Wesley College in Dover, Del., according to RealClearPolitics. “In our experience, Callista and I both believe CNN is less biased than Fox this year. We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of Fox, and we’re more likely to get distortion out of Fox. That’s just a fact.”
So maybe Gingrich winds up as a commentator at CNN? And, say Republicans who know Gingrich, his plan to keep traveling and making speeches would surely include continued fundraising as well.
Despite leading in the national polls for a time, Gingrich won only two primaries – South Carolina and Georgia – and suffered some public embarrassment when his campaign team resigned en masse over his unorthodox strategy, which for a time did not involve many public appearances.
But he proved on the debate stage that he is a skilled communicator, and that will stand him in good stead going forward, even if he never runs for office again.
There’s now a whole new generation of Americans who know who Gingrich is. Given that he left the speakership in 1998 and hasn’t held elective office since, anyone much under 30 might not have been aware of him. Now, after 20 debates and some ribbing on “Saturday Night Live” for his dream of establishing moon colonies, he’s certainly boosted his public profile.
“He’s still one of the best messengers the Republican Party has. He has a huge following around the country,” says Saul Anuzis, a Republican national committeeman from Michigan. “And even though, for multiple reasons, people may not have been ready to support him for president, he’s still very well respected and is considered a leading thinker both in the conservative movement and Republican Party.”
In some ways Gingrich’s presidential campaign enhanced his brand and in other ways damaged it, Mr. Anuzis adds, but “he’ll continue to be a player.”
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