What went wrong for Newt Gingrich? He is ending his once-promising Republican presidential campaign amid a huge debt and no shortage of second-guessing about the cause of his downfall. But in the end, Gingrich failed because of an over-abundance of self-importance and self-indulgence, and a vast over-estimation of his appeal as a cerebral candidate of ideas.
It turns out that the former House speaker was a free-spending campaigner, more than some of his conservative supporters had expected. He incurred a campaign debt estimated at $4 million, including $1 million owed to an charter airline company that handled much of his travel. Despite his past criticisms of front-runner Mitt Romney, Gingrich wants help from his former rival to retire his debt, and Romney seems willing to lend a hand.
Even Gingrich's supporters say he often came across as arrogant and unlikable, acting as if he were the smartest person in the room and alienating both potential backers in his party's establishment and everyday voters. That's not the kind of leader that the Republicans were looking for, even though Gingrich did well in several debates when he showed his mastery of policy details, from the budget to immigration.
But he could barely restrain his legendary combativeness and anger, such as when he repeatedly took on the news media including the debate moderators from the Fox News network, which takes the conservative side on many issues.
Gingrich also made his share of mistakes. His campaign nearly ended in 2011 when Gingrich had serious disagreements with his staff over strategy, and several of his senior aides quit. Some of them said that Gingrich's hifalutin notions about being the "ideas candidate" and his theories about how to conduct a non-traditional campaign for the 21st Century translated into a failure to devote enough time to raising money, organizing his troops, and retail, person-to-person politics.
He also ranged far afield in his policy prescriptions. At a time when the country was focused on the weak economy and high unemployment, Gingrich sometimes sailed against the tide, suggesting, for example, that one of his priorities as president would be to establish a colony on the moon. He said this showed his fertile and agile mind, but his opponents said it was a looney idea that country couldn't afford.
Gingrich's messy personal life—including his admitted adultery—also took its toll, especially among women voters.
In the end, the former House speaker won only two states, South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. Then he joined the roster of other GOP candidates who rose up briefly to challenge Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, only to fall by the wayside under the weight of Romney's more orthodox operation. Romney emerged as the presumptive nominee based on his steady message of being able to fix the economy, his vast fund-raising ability, his willingness to go on the attack in expensive and extensive TV ad campaigns, and his experience as a national candidate. Gingrich couldn't keep up in any of those categories.