While he’s still not ready to entirely concede defeat, exactly, Newt Gingrich these days sounds more like a man leading a cause than a campaign.
The onetime House speaker, who has almost no chance to win the Republican nomination, said he has a new mission: to make sure Mitt Romney runs as a conservative in the general election, as he has promised, rather than tacking back to the center, as his campaign has suggested he might.
“There’s no compulsion to get out of the race, except in the heads of writers and talk-show hosts,” Gingrich said in an interview. “And nobody runs up to me and says, ‘Please get out of the race.’ They have come up to me and said the opposite: ‘Please stay in the race.’ . . . People walk up again and again and say, ‘Please stay in and please fight for conservatism.’ ”
Gingrich plans to start by lobbying for some sturdy planks in the party’s platform — a document that is usually ignored by all but the most stalwart of Republicans, but one that he insists “can shape how the campaign unfolds.”
He wants to build in a strong commitment to the 10th Amendment, which assures power for the states, rather than Washington; a balanced-budget provision that would include a fund for debt repayment financed by royalties from oil and gas; a plan for energy independence; and a science research project to map the brain. Maximizing understanding of how the brain works is an idea he believes voters will find relevant in their own lives, given the aging of the population and the increasing incidence of such diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“If you find the right issue, it suddenly becomes not just the platform. It suddenly becomes a thematic,” Gingrich insisted.
Gingrich has taken to highlighting the issues on the stump and is hoping to enlist some party leaders, such as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in the effort. But it remains unclear what influence, if any, Gingrich will wield over his party or its stances.
Gingrich hasn’t won a contest in over a month, and it’s been nearly that long since he came as close as second. As often as not lately, he has placed last behind Romney, Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Gingrich recognizes that this makes it exceedingly unlikely that he will win the Republican nomination. But he also said he sees no reason to drop out.
Still, having scaled back his schedule and let go much of his campaign staff, Gingrich has been spending a fair amount of time lately catching up on his sleep — 13 hours a few nights back, when his allergies got the better of him.
He has also been trying to figure out what went wrong, and to ponder his options.
The former speaker acknowledges that he hadn’t fully understood how the political system had changed in the 14 years since he had last seen his name on a ballot.
In the fall, as his campaign was lifting itself from the ashes and he was rising in the polls, Gingrich shrugged off the prospect of going up against Romney’s better-financed operation. He was confident, he said then, that he could overcome any advertising blitz with his own abilities to promote himself through talk radio and other conservative media outlets.
“It never occurred to me — and this is one of the lessons I’m contemplating for some future memoir — it never occurred to me the scale of the Romney fundraising capability,” Gingrich said. “I was fully prepared to be outspent 2-to-1, even 3-to-1. But when you’re up to 5- or 6-to-1, you’re being drowned. You’re not going to be able to match it.”
And yet, the man whose political fortunes always seem to have one more gasp can’t quite bring himself to give up all hope.
“The only way I’ll be the nominee is if Romney makes a major mistake and ends up with a number of his delegates saying they just can’t do that,” he said. “On the other hand, that has happened in American history, and as a historian, I’m probably the calmest person about not getting out [of the presidential race] of anyone you know.”
Is there anything that could make him leave the race?
Nevertheless, as he tries to pick up a few convention delegates here and there in the remaining contests, there are other issues that the former representative from Georgia is going to have to figure out — such as how he will pay the bills for a campaign that, in its latest filing, was carrying as much debt as cash on hand.
He will find money to pay off the seven-figure debt “the same way I did in 1978 [when he was first elected to Congress after two losing campaigns], the same way I did in 1999 [after resigning the speakership]. You work and pay it off,” Gingrich said. “Whatever shape we’re in when this is over, you look at it, you take a big swallow and go to work.”
As for a means of earning a living, Gingrich said he isn’t much worried about that, either — despite the fact that his biggest private endeavor, the for-profit Center for Health Transformation, went belly-up last week. When Gingrich left the think tank about a year ago, it issued him a promissory note that, according to his disclosure form, was the former speaker’s biggest financial asset.
The center’s bankruptcy is “really sad,” he said. “They did good work, and I think if Obamacare is repealed, they would have been really, really valuable. Once I left, they just couldn’t find a way to sustain it.”
But Gingrich has more than Social Security and his congressional pension to fall back on. He notes that his wife, Callista, enjoyed surprising success with her children’s book and has contracts to write two more.
“She’ll go back, no matter what happens to me, I think she’ll go back to making [documentary] movies and writing books and doing a few other things,” he said.
“And if I end up not being the nominee, I suspect I’ll go back to making speeches and writing books and actually having a pretty good time.”