Newt Gingrich may have finally met his political end. In a virtual tie with Rick Santorum for fourth place in the New Hampshire race, he delivered a boring and rambling speech, suggesting there is no one around him with the temerity to suggest he needs a script.

Aside from the day he was dumped as speaker of the House, Tuesday was possibly the worst of his political career. Not only did he perform poorly for the second race in a row, but he was on the receiving end of a collective handslapping.

Gingrich promises to go to South Carolina and he will have the benefit of his superPAC money. But an ad campaign that has been excoriated by conservatives is not a winning strategy. More ominous for Gingrich were the remarks of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has so far officially stayed neutral, but last night bemoaned the leftist attacks on Bain and predicted a Mitt Romney win in South Carolina. A thumbs-down from the most staunchly conservative state-wide figure is one more piece of bad news for Gingrich.

Rush Limbaugh, who had been generous in his praise for Gingrich, carved him up. He told his listeners:

I don’t know why the Occupy Wall Street people are protesting Newt. They’re singing from the same hymnal on this. This is right out of the New York Times. Newt is parroting what the New York Times is writing about Romney. . . .

Folks, it is clear here what is going on. This is not a campaign for the presidency. That’s not what this is anymore. This is payback time. It drove him nuts, that series of ads that Romney’s super PAC ran in Iowa, and this is the result of it. That’s why we are where we are. I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m just explaining. I’m not defending anybody. I just think this is very unfortunate. This is not the kind of stuff that you want said by Republicans. Even the Establishment Republicans don’t go after Conservatives this way.”

Gingrich fared no better with print journalists.

The Post’s editorial board was moved to defend venture capitalism, noting that private equity markets are “one feature of U.S. capitalism that makes our system more flexible and capable of ‘creative destruction’ than Europe’s”:

Private equity strives to maximize returns to investors, and Bain certainly did that: to the tune of 88 percent per year between its 1984 founding and Mr. Romney’s retirement in 1999. Does it create jobs? Well, private-equity firms often shrink payroll to bring down costs. And some companies, laden with debt taken on to pay for restructuring, fail anyway. On the other hand, companies that survive restructuring can flourish and hire more people than they might have otherwise. Calculating net job creation depends on what-ifs that would be hard to specify, even if private-equity transactions were not, by their nature, less transparent than those involving publicly traded firms.

Mr. Romney and his partners at Bain astutely spotted and nurtured winners, and bet on their share of losers. Of 77 major deals that the firm did under Mr. Romney, 17 either filed for bankruptcy or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, according to the Wall Street Journal — a relatively high proportion that partly reflects Bain’s willingness to take on smaller, troubled firms. (Bain responded to the Journal that its figures included companies that went under even after Bain cashed out.) Among the success stories of Mr. Romney’s tenure are Staples and the Sports Authority. Those companies have thousands of employees, who might otherwise have worked at mom-and-pop competitors, or not at all. It’s hard to say how much credit belongs to Mr. Romney — mainly a rainmaker at Bain by his final years — and how much to other investors, or to workers and managers themselves.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, no fan of Romney’s, also bashed Gingrich:

About the best that can be said about the Republican attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital is that President Obama is going to do the same thing eventually, so GOP primary voters might as well know what’s coming. Yet that hardly absolves Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others for their crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism.

Bain’s business model is little more than “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company,” says Mr. Gingrich, whose previous insights into free enterprise include years of defending the taxpayer-fed business of corn ethanol.

A super PAC supporting the former House Speaker plans to spend $3.4 million in TV ads in South Carolina portraying Mr. Romney as Gordon Gekko without the social conscience. The financing for these ads will come from a billionaire who made his money in the casino business, which Mr. Gingrich apparently considers morally superior to investing in companies in the hope of making a profit. . . .

Politics isn’t subtle, and these candidates are desperate, but do they have to sound like Michael Moore?

Ironically, in blowing up his own candidacy and showing himself to be both vengeful and unprincipled, Gingrich ably aided Romney’s campaign. Romney more than withstood the most vicious attacks of the campaign, and in fact turned them to his advantage.

More important, Gingrich’s attack on a critical part of the U.S. economy has forced Americans to learn something about how new businesses get seed money, grow and prosper. When, if Romney is the nominee, President Obama mimics these attacks in the general election, the public will already be better informed. We can hope the voters will be less willing to accept the same hysterical attacks from the president who thinks Solyndra was a great way to use taxpayers’ money.

Gingrich got the comeuppance he richly deserved. Whether he leaves the race or not (Romney should be happy to have him around to attack him from the left) is irrelevant. Only Herman Cain has outdone Gingrich among the presidential contenders in harming his standing in the conservative movement. When he loses the race and returns to his speech making and film-making, just who is going to turn out to listen to his pearls of wisdom? He should have followed Sarah Palin’s lead and kept his franchise going rather than killed it in a disastrous presidential bid.