After what began as a quixotic swan song late in a political career, Newt Gingrich has called an end to a presidential campaign that lasted far longer than any pundit could have predicted.
The former House speaker picked up just two wins, in South Carolina and his native Georgia, but he left an indelible mark on the topsy-turvy Republican race. From his stern rebukes of debate moderators to his fanciful ideas of moon colonization, Gingrich the historian provided moments of levity on the trail, but also delivered some of the most stinging attacks on presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
It's that angle that Democrats and President Obama's re-election campaign seek to exploit in a Web advertisement that compiles some of Gingrich's greatest hits. It catalogs Gingrich calling Romney a liar, disparaging his image as a job creator, and more.
But that's not what Gingrich, in remarks made Wednesday in Arlington, would like to have you remember.
"Ask yourself, who are the kind of people that Governor Romney would be inclined to appoint and who are the kind of people we know Barack Obama appoints?" he said before a small crowd of supporters while delivering his farewell address. "The gap is as wide as in any point in American history. I would argue it's wider between Romney and Obama than between Reagan and Carter."
And that bit about Romney not knowing about job creation? Well, Gingrich is singing a different tune now.
"If you look at Romney's pledge to cut spending, something that we are going to cheerfully help him with; to balance the budget, something I have had some involvement with; to work with Paul Ryan and others on the entitlement crisis; to focus on economic growth by creating private sector jobs, something I would suggest Governor Romney knows about 60,000 times more than does President Obama … you can't get a much bigger gap than those kinds of things," Gingrich said.
The about-face for Gingrich, who had repeatedly pledged to stay in the race all the way until the Republican convention in Tampa at the end of the summer, might have something to do with the roughly $4 million in campaign debt he's saddled with and the hope that Romney will help retire some of it. Whatever the cause of the change of heart, one GOP strategist says Gingrich doesn't need to fear he's caused lasting damage to Romney.
"This has given the campaign a chance to prepare against attacks that Obama would naturally utilize anyway," says Ron Bonjean, a D.C.-based Republican strategist. He adds that most people already knew what attacks could be made against Romney and a video of Gingrich verbalizing them doesn't change anything.
"The real campaign is going to be about jobs and the economy, and if Romney can show a better plan than Obama, he'll have a great chance of getting the White House," he says. "A Republican attacking Mitt Romney will not likely sway independents because they don't care about the infighting. They care about, 'Does this guy have the right blueprint to get me a job?'"
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.