LANCASTER, Pa.--Newt Gingrich has gotten noticeably fatter over the course of his presidential campaign. His belly bulged onto his lap as he sat on a yellow couch in the basement of a Lancaster Marriott one recent night; he had fastened only one of the two buttons on his black suit jacket, and even it appeared to be straining. In this sense, and perhaps this sense only, Gingrich has not been diminished by his ongoing quest for the presidency.
In all other ways, however, Gingrich is a man reduced. And it is not at all clear that he will ever be able to get back the many things he has lost.
These days, Gingrich attracts more attention for having been bitten by a zoo penguin than for a policy proposal, even a totally outlandish one. Recently, at the convention of the National Rifle Association, he proposed an international treaty to make the right to bear arms a universal human right; the nation shrugged, if it even noticed.
Gingrich barely even rated a mention in the program for the Tuesday-night dinner of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County, a conservative community in the heart of Southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish country. The program's cover image: "Featured Guest Gov. Mitt Romney." Inside, there was a full-page bio of Romney; Gingrich's name appeared only as a line in the agenda--last, save for the presentation of gifts and live auction--and in paid advertisements taken out by local politicians.
Earlier the same day, Gingrich had alerted his nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers to a BuzzFeed post titled "The 25 Cutest Pictures of Newt Gingrich With Zoo Animals." Gingrich's tweet: "This is fun. Thx for sharing," followed by the BuzzFeed writer's original tweet of the link. Despite his refusal to drop out and make it official, the political world had not been taking Gingrich seriously as a candidate for some weeks, but with the tweet, Gingrich seemed to be acknowledging his own status as a figure of ridicule.
Before running for president, Newt Gingrich had built a very good life for himself. The former House speaker resided in posh McLean, Va., with his third wife, who enjoyed expensive jewelry and singing in church choir.
He ran a profitable empire of think tanks, wrote and cowrote books of fiction and nonfiction, appeared on television as a commentator, and traveled the country giving speeches, basking in his role as GOP elder statesman. Inevitably, as he finished one of his fiery orations on the endless circuit of rubber-chicken dinners, local activists would come away starry-eyed, wishing this dazzling man, with his charisma, insight and seemingly endless ideas, would find it in him to run for president.
Today, much of that empire is in a shambles.
The Fox News contributor gig is no longer, having been suspended when Gingrich became a candidate, and quietly canceled thereafter. Relations between Gingrich and the cable channel have notably soured. Recently, Gingrich told a Delaware tea party group that he felt the network had exhibited a bias against him, accusing it of "distortion"; the network fired back with a biting statement: "He's still bitter over the termination of his contributor contract." It seems safe to say that bridge, for Gingrich, has been burned.
The policy and consulting enterprise Gingrich helmed is similarly on the rocks. American Solutions for Winning the Future, his major nonprofit, shut down last August, and the Gingrich Group, his for-profit advocacy shop, filed for bankruptcy in Georgia earlier this month. Together, the two entities had grossed more than $100 million over the course of a decade, according to Bloomberg. Now, thanks to Gingrich's quest for the presidency, they are defunct.
Gingrich's campaign, nearly $4.5 million in debt, has stooped to renting out its donor and e-mail list for money. On Tuesday, people who had signed up on Gingrich's presidential website received, under the heading "A special offer for Newt's supporters," an advertisement from LifeLock, an identity-protection company. "Special Offer for Newt Gingrich Fans!" the email said. "30 Days Free + 10% Off LifeLock Membership."
Even Gingrich's last book was outsold by the patriotic children's book penned by his wife, Callista, which features an elephant named Ellis. The couple's credit line at Tiffany--up to $1 million at one point--is gone.
This is a man who once commanded $1.6 million in consulting fees from the government-sponsored mortgage giant Freddie Mac, and had similar contracts with companies such as IBM and Microsoft; now that he's called for Freddie to be broken up, it seems doubtful it will be eager to rehire him. As for the rest, one wonders what kind of clout they'd think they'd get from a man who tested the proposition that he was the face of contemporary conservatism, only to win just two primaries--and then totally ignore the writing on the wall about the failure of his own candidacy.
At the dinner in Lancaster, Romney spoke near the beginning of the program, Gingrich after the dinner and appearances by a parade of down-ballot Pennsylvania candidates. Half the press had left, but the crowd of several hundred stayed and listened politely. Afterward, in the basement room with the yellow couch, Gingrich took questions from reporters, gamely laying out his hopes for winning Tuesday's primary in Delaware. Though he keeps hope alive, he has acknowledged he's unlikely to get the nomination at this point. Given that, I asked him, what does he think the future holds? What is his Plan B after this?
"I don't think about it, frankly," he said, fixing me with his powerfully quizzical stare. "I'm quite happy with my Plan A."