ARLINGTON, Va. — In the end, Newt Gingrich turned himself into the one thing he had been trying to avoid during the entire GOP primary season: a punchline.
In a 23-minute speech in the ballroom of a Hilton hotel, the former House speaker on Wednesday afternoon brought his presidential campaign to a close nearly a year after it began.
He took swipes at President Barack Obama and delivered a tepid endorsement of GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Gingrich made several joking references to his campaign-trail plan for a permanent moon colony — a proposal that had come to symbolize Gingrich’s descent from one of the most powerful players on the national stage to an also-ran, ridiculed for his off-beat ideas.
“I want to just say I’m cheerfully going to take back up the issue of space,” said Gingrich as he came to the end of a long list of issues he said he intends to continue addressing in appearances across the country. “My wife has pointed out to me approximately 219 times, give or take three, that moon colony was probably not my most clever comment in this campaign,” he continued. “I thought, frankly, in my role as providing material for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was helpful.”
Gingrich, who appeared wistful was flanked by his wife, Callista; his daughters Kathy and Jackie; Jackie’s husband, Jimmy; and Gingrich’s grandchildren, Maggie and Robert, whom he often referred to as his “two best debate coaches.”
Toward the end of the speech, Gingrich again referenced his idea of permanently colonizing the moon. “I’m not totally certain I will get to the moon colony,” he said. “I am certain Maggie and Robert will have that opportunity to go and take it. I think it’s almost inevitable, on just the sheer scale of technological change.”
Of the election at hand, Gingrich said that he and Callista pledge to campaign for “a Republican president, a Republican house, a Republican Senate, Republican governors, Republican state legislators.”
“As for the presidency, I’m asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative?” he continued. “And my answer is simple. Compared to Barack Obama? You know, 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 American history.”
Gingrich did offer some praise for Romney on the issue of job-creation; he told the crowd that the former Massachusetts governor and head of Bain Capital “knows about 60,000 times more than does President Obama” when it comes to creating private-sector jobs.
Of Obama’s visit this week to Afghanistan to mark the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, Gingrich said it was “nice” that the president made the trip, but that “the center of al-Qaida today is Yemen.”
“I’m not sure the White House has gotten that briefing yet, but they will eventually,” he said. “The fact that we assume our opponents are as stupid as our bureaucracy is very dangerous, and I think you have to recognize we do not have a grand strategy in this zone.”
In the waning days of his campaign, Gingrich drew crowds of only several dozen people and his exit speech appeared no different.