Newt Gingrich might have delivered one of the least gracious--but most memorable--concession speeches in memory on Tuesday night.
The former House speaker, reeling from his distant fourth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses, trampled over postelection etiquette by blasting two of his rivals by name, mocking both as serious choices for the GOP nomination. He saved the toughest jabs for his antagonist on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney, who nearly doubled Gingrich's share of the caucus-vote total.
The Georgian asked voters whether they wanted a “Reagan conservative” like himself, “or do you want a Massachusetts moderate who, in fact, will be pretty good at managing the decay but has given no evidence in his years in Massachusetts of any ability to change the culture, or change the political structure, or change the government?”
Gingrich was equally blunt in speaking about the third-place finisher, Rep. Ron Paul. Electing the Texas lawmaker, he said, risks bringing down nuclear apocalypse because Paul isn’t willing to prevent the weapons from falling into enemy hands.
“The fact is, his views on foreign policy, I think, are stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich’s attacks were all the more eyebrow-raising because after leveling them, he still complained that he had been the target of the “biggest onslaught” of negative TV ads in Iowa caucus history. As former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer put it afterward on CNN, “It was one of the most ungracious moments in politics.”
And it certainly stood apart from past memorable concession speeches in Iowa, none more so than the soaring address given by then-candidate Barack Obama, exactly four years ago when he won the Democratic caucuses. Rather than take potshots at his rivals, Obama seized his historic victory and rose above the moment, outlining a forward-looking agenda that he would enact as president.
How Gingrich’s speech influences voters, coming as it does while his campaign is leaking support fast, is unclear. Will it harpoon his effort as it did Howard Dean, another formerly high-flying contender? The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate’s infamous “Dean Scream,” uttered in the wake of his loss in the Hawkeye State, helped end his already-faltering run. And the visuals of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s remarks after her Iowa defeat in 2008 were nearly as memorable, surrounded as she was by a group of older voters who seemed to indicate that her candidacy was a thing of the past. She was later able to resuscitate her effort–-can Gingrich do the same?
Fitting for a memorable night of voting, many of the candidates' post-caucus speeches were far from ordinary.
The state’s top two choices, Romney and Santorum, gave distinctly different remarks. The ex-U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, whose campaign languished in the single digits just a month ago, delivered a heartfelt address on what might have been the biggest night of his political career. He talked about his immigrant grandfather’s sacrifices and his western Pennsylvania, steel-town roots, channeling his hardscrabble background to make a full-throated pitch to blue-collar voters.
“When Republicans say, ‘Well why are you treating manufacturing different than retail?’ Well, I say, 'Wal-Mart isn’t moving to China and taking their jobs with them,' ” he said. Santorum added later, “I share the values of the working people.… if we have someone who can go out to western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Indiana and Michigan and Wisconsin and Iowa, and Missouri, and appeal to the voters who have been left behind by a Deocratic Party that wants to make them dependent instead of valuing their work, we will win this election.”
Romney, meanwhile, sounded like a GOP front-runner, already focusing his gaze on the general election. It was just another night on his path toward the party’s nomination: He congratulated his rivals and directed all of his fire at Obama instead, mocking him for not delivering on the promises he made four years ago after he won Iowa.
“The gap between his promises four years ago and his performance is as great as anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” Romney said.
If Paul was disappointed after finishing third, he didn’t show it. Rather, he congratulated his supporters for not only voting for him but also pushing an array of issues–-from a noninterventionist foreign policy to dismantling the Federal Reserve–-into the party’s mainstream. He touted that a polling firm recently asked Americans whether they wanted the country to switch to the gold standard.
“How long has it been since they’ve taken a national poll on the gold standard?” he asked his supporters, who cheered wildly throughout his speech. “And guess what--the majority of American people believe we should have a gold standard, not a paper standard!”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, somewhat surprisingly despite his poor fifth-place showing, announced that he would “reassess” whether to stay in the race. He was upbeat, saying, “There had been no greater joy in his life,” but he left little doubt that his campaign has reached its last stop.
“I’ve decided to return into Texas, reassess the results of tonight’s caucus, and determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race,” he said.
If the Lone Star State's chief executive saw Iowa’s decision as a clear message to leave the race, Rep. Michele Bachmann didn’t. The Minnesota lawmaker, who finished last among all the serious candidates, delivered a sedate speech, rarely looking up from her notes, but she gave no solid indication that she plans to leave the contest. She said before the caucuses that she would bypass New Hampshire and head to South Carolina, where she hoped to tap into the social-conservative vote.
“In 2012, there will be another occupant in the White House,” she said. “Who knows, maybe even another Michele in the White House.”