Newt Gingrich offered something for everyone as he struggled to revive his floundering presidential campaign at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday.
But for Gingrich, it may have been too little, too late.
The audience offered Gingrich polite applause and even a standing ovation or two, but his address had none of the rabid energy enjoyed by Rick Santorum earlier in the day.
Even Mitt Romney, in a perennial struggle to appease conservatives, had lines of activists snaking around a Washington hotel hoping to get into his speech. For Gingrich, the room barely filled at this convention of Republican Party faithful.
In fact, Gingrich's remarks served to underscore the GOP's reluctance to wholeheartedly embrace a candidate that many consider volatile, grandiose and weighed down by an abundance of political baggage.
“This campaign is a mortal threat to their grip on the establishment because we intend to change Washington, not accommodate it,” Gingrich said, calling out the GOP for failing to win presidential campaigns in 1996, 2008 and other years. "Because they don't have the toughness, they don't have the commitment, and they don't have the philosophy necessary to build a majority in this country."
As Gingrich took the stage, explaining his campaign might be outspent but was built on "people power," a blue-tinted photo montage of his most prominent supporters appeared behind him. At the center of the photo was Gingrich, looking like the namesake partner in an ad for a law firm.
He was introduced by his wife, Callista, who almost never speaks at his campaign events, but told activists that her husband is an enthusiastic golfer.
"He gets in and out of more sand-traps than anyone I've ever seen," she said.
Gingrich ticked off a laundry list of promises for what his administration would do immediately upon assuming office, punctuating the ending of each declarative statement with the word "period." He suggested he could repeal 40 percent of what Obama had done as president on his first day in office.
He pledged to abolish all "White House czars" established by Obama, sign executive orders authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reinstate President Reagan's policy banning funding abortion overseas, and repeal "every act of religious bigotry by the Obama administration, period."
"Never again should we pay someone 99 weeks for doing nothing," Gingrich said, railing against the extension of unemployment insurance passed by Congress and signed by Obama.
"Think about the total waste of human capability when you teach people to sit at home for 99 weeks," he said. "It's fundamentally wrong, and a violation of the Declaration of Independence's right to pursue happiness."
Considered the most viable and well-positioned alternative for conservatives disenchanted by Romney just weeks ago, Gingrich has fallen from grace while Santorum has surged, relegating Gingrich to an afterthought in three primary contests that Santorum won on Tuesday.
Gingrich is in third place nationally — 16 points behind Romney — according to a Gallup poll released Friday.
But unlike other recent campaign appearances, where Gingrich has let loose on Romney (and sometimes Santorum) in hopes of chipping away at his GOP rivals, Gingrich lobbed no attacks on the other candidates Friday, save for a brief reference to his opponents having deeper pockets.
Few of the ideas Gingrich offered were substantially different than anything he has said previously on the stump or the campaign trail. But the force and confidence with which he delivered them bespoke his biggest strength as a candidate: the power of his own oratory.
He warned against the dangers of appeasing Middle East foes, telling the crowd the answer "starts with telling the truth about radical Islamists who seek to kill us."
And he used the most recent controversy to encumber Obama — a fight over mandating that religious organizations provide their employees free contraception through their health plans — to paint himself as the best candidate to defend religious freedom from alleged infringement by Obama and the left.
"This is a man who is deeply committed — if he wins reelection, he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he is reelected," he said.
Denouncing the U.S. inability to locate 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, Gingrich asked for a show of hands of how many conference-goers had tracked a Fedex or UPS package online.
"I have a simple proposal: We send a package to everyone who's here illegally and when it's delivered, we pull it up on a computer, we know where they are," he said.
The humorous line offered a seamless pivot to an attack on Gingrich's favorite target: the media.
"Let me say for my friends in the news media: That was hyperbole and we don't need a fact check."