Newt Gingrich's long goodbye from the presidential race became formal Wednesday, one week after he lost five contests by an average of more than 48 points and nearly one year after announcing his bid for the White House.
It was indeed a long goodbye: Staffers and even Gingrich himself leaked word of the planned formal suspension last week, and Gingrich even released a pre-withdrawal farewell video on Tuesday.
At the formal, formal withdrawal in Virginia on Wednesday, Gingrich stressed that "suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship." This suggests Gingrich will have a difficult time fully leaving the political stage during this campaign season.
And he did not give a full-throated endorsement of Mitt Romney.
"I'm asked sometimes, 'Is Mitt Romney conservative?'" Gingrich said. "And my answer is simple: Compared to Barack Obama? This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in history."
It was a wild, sometimes bizarre, year for Gingrich, who, after announcing his candidacy on May 11, 2011, survived the en masse resignation of 16 of his top aides in June to emerge as the winner of the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21 of this year. But Gingrich only won one more contest, his home state of Georgia, as his campaign racked up $4.3 million in debt.
Along the way he talked of Moon colonies, made trips to eight zoos, and held numerous book signings for the four books he and his wife, Callista, published during the campaign. Some questioned why it took him seven weeks of defeats to drop out, particularly as his Secret Service protection cost taxpayers about $266,000 per week.
Gingrich told supporters last week that he would "stay very, very active. … I am committed to defeating Obama. We will find ways to try to be helpful."
But don't be surprised if Romney is slow to reach out to his former rival after Gingrich spent much of the year calling Romney a "Massachusetts moderate" who will "not survive against the Obama machine."