The Long Goodbye

I didn’t write yesterday about the reports that Newt Gingrich was going to shut down his campaign, since it hadn’t really happened yet, and I figured Newt would milk the final moment for all it was worth.

Sure enough, as Mark Leibovich of the New York Times reports, Gingrich is still roaming around North Carolina, pretending to be a presidential candidate just like he’s pretended to be president-in-waiting all these years since he was forced from the speakership:

One of the quirky indulgences of modern campaigns is that candidates announce their intent to run for president on multiple occasions — essentially, stunts to milk media attention. They announce the formation of exploratory committees, announce that they intend to run, announce that they are actually running, etc.

Ever the innovator, Mr. Gingrich has applied that ritual to quitting. While he has had no realistic chance of overtaking Mr. Romney for several weeks, he maintained until recently that he would stay in the race all the way to the Republican National Convention.

But at some point, Mr. Gingrich started referring to the race in the past tense. He shed nearly all of his staff. He pinned his hopes on Tuesday’s primary in tiny Delaware, saying that he would reassess if he lost — which he did, by almost 30 points.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gingrich indicated that he would suspend the campaign next week with a speech. He will offer some form of official endorsement of Mr. Romney.

A familiar analogy is to the Japanese soldiers who turned up in remote areas long after August 1945 and had no idea that World War II had ended. But Mr. Gingrich knows his war is over, and while not exactly fighting, he is not surrendering yet, either. His wife, Callista, was appearing at events nearby.

It must be weird for regular folks to run into Newt or Callista right now. What do you say to them? “Thanks for the memories?” “Have you had to hock the jewelry yet?” “Please go away?” “Can I call your care-giver for you?” “Is that a Secret Service agent with you, and am I paying for that?”

Leibovich offered a vignette from a custom racing car factory that Gingrich was visiting for no obvious reason:

“This is absolutely astonishing,” he said, transfixed while caressing a gray engine block in a prototyping lab. He walked slowly across a factory floor that resembled one of those blinding white rooms in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The place was largely vacant, as many employees had decamped to Brazil for a big race this weekend.

Mr. Gingrich gave a thumbs-up to a guy driving by on a maintenance cart and popped his head into an office. “Hi, I’m Newt,” he said to the startled occupant, Felicia Thomas. “I know who you are,” she said.

He lingered, in no rush at all.

Leibovich probably used the stranded-Japanese-soldier-fighting-on analogy because zombie metaphors are just too obvious as he watches Newt shamble along with no particular place to go. At some point, even if Gingrich doesn’t get around to officially announcing the end of his campaign, the Secret Service protection will be pulled, and we’ll all forget about him until he figures out a new way to give us one more chance to regard him as our Churchill.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.