In the End, Newt Was Almost Honest With Us All

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May 2 2012 7:16 PM

Newt Until the End

Gingrich says goodbye, for now.

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Former House speaker Newt Gingrich dropped his bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination

Photograph by Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages

The embeds found the hotel before anybody else did. The ballroom where Newt Gingrich would suspend his presidential campaign was tiny, and there were only four comfortable tables for the press, so the embeds snagged them first. Only fair. These TV reporters, none of them older than 25, had been collecting video of Gingrich until long after their networks stopped using it. They did not earn the approval of Winston Cornwall, a strategist who said he’d done some work with Gingrich in the 1990s, who stalked the hotel hallway in a blue blazer.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

“The teenagers are here,” said Cornwall. “I’m disappointed. I guess I was expected some kind of rally with Newt’s supporters and staff. But it looks like a press conference. I don’t even see any top reporters.” He craned his neck toward the hotel elevators. “I stand corrected. There’s press royalty right here!” He’d spotted the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who writes a daily “Washington Sketch” and materializes at events that carry a Defcon 1 risk of farce.

Newt Gingrich, who has been written off as a has-been at least twice, had never really given a speech like this. In 1998, when he gave up the speaker’s gavel, the announcement came via a statement read to reporters by a spokeswoman. Gingrich himself was sequestered in Georgia, brooding. In the summer of 2011, when the political press ran early obits of his presidential campaign, Gingrich fed off it, kept on running, and won two primaries. His Hilton Arlington address would be his first-ever career valedictory.

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People like to be in the room for things like that. As 3 p.m. approached, Gingrich’s brother, daughters, and extended family found the ballroom and chatted with each other.

“What have I been up to? I’ve been letting out my skirts,” said a staffer talking to Gingrich’s brother Randy. (Randy looks like the speaker might look if he was a head taller and got picked first in gym class.) “I want to tell Newt, I put on 20 pounds for you.”

R.C. Hammond, Gingrich’s perpetually arch spokesman, alternated between chats with supporters and quick Q-and-As with reporters. The Romney campaign, he said, had been generous giving Gingrich access to helpful donors. Gingrich would campaign wherever he was wanted. The campaign picked this hotel because “the staffer who picked it went in a concentric circle around our office, looking for whatever room was closest.”

Nathan Naidu, Gingrich’s less arch spokesman, found the people who’d spent the most time on his campaign bus. At one point, all of them had written stories about what a disaster Newt 2012 had morphed into. Bygones. Naidu pointed at the unfamiliar press—which included, for some reason, two Japanese TV stations—that had occupied all the free space in the room. “I don’t remember them from the bus!” he said. “I don’t want to see anyone who wasn’t on the bus.” He excused himself when he spotted a photographer who’d covered Gingrich: “I need to go hug somebody I like.”

Many photographers had to go without hugs. Two of them debated among themselves about whether they’d paid enough to park—was two hours enough? Would Gingrich go longer than that? A few Gingrich staffers and volunteers snuck into the cramped press rows and reminisced about the campaign. Louis Altobelli had joined the campaign in March, long after it was clear that Gingrich couldn’t win. His job: Calling delegates. It was incredibly unrewarding work.

“I talked to delegates that Newt won in Tennessee, who said they weren’t going to back him anymore,” said Altobelli. “It was the machine. That’s the word right now. We were outspent, and it’s too bad, because it would have been nice to have somebody different, instead of the machine’s choice.”