Newt Gingrich exited the presidential campaign on Wednesday in his trademark style — a 30-minute speech that touched on brain science, hologram technology, and, of course, lunar colonies.
"Today I'm suspending the campaign. But spending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship. Callista and I are committed to being active citizens. We owe it to America," Gingrich said at a speech to supporters in Arlington, Va., with his wife by his side.
But how effectively Gingrich will be able to do so remains a serious question after his bruising primary fight. He stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, saying simply that the former governor was a superior alternative to President Obama.
"I'm asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative enough. And my answer is simple: 'Compared to Barack Obama?'" Gingrich said.
Later, the former House Speaker said the election was not "a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan, it's a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in American history."
When Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond was pressed after the event about whether that constituted an endorsement, he deferred, telling reporters they were better served bothering the Romney campaign's headquarters in Boston, offering up that city's area code.
"You guys have 617 numbers you can call. Leave me alone," Hammond said.
The tepid support will likely do little to endear Gingrich to the Republican Party after a grueling primary campaign, and is particularly puzzling considering the $4 million in debt the Gingrich campaign reportedly holds. According to multiple reports, the Romney campaign and Republican National Committee indicated they would help Gingrich retire the outstanding balance, but such an offer seems likely predicated on hard work to support the Romney campaign.
In a statement, Romney said Gingrich brought "creativity and intellectual vitality to American political life."
"During the course of this campaign, Newt demonstrated both eloquence and fearlessness in advancing conservative ideas. Although he long ago created an enduring place for himself in American history, I am confident that he will continue to make important contributions to our party and to the life of the nation," Romney said.
With Gingrich's exit, that only leaves Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) as possible competition for Romney but the delegate count makes it unlikely Paul will catch the former Massachusetts governor.
Gingrich took no questions and did not directly address his financial situation during his remarks, aside from thanking those who had previously donated to his campaign.
Gingrich did take the time for a special thank you to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who donated millions to a super-PAC supporting Gingrich's campaign.
The former speaker also did little to advocate for a speaking spot at the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa, instead saying he would could continue to campaign on his policy platforms while holding campign-style events as a "citizen" in states like New Hampshire.
"We're now going to put down the role of candidate and candidate spouse and put back on the role of citizen," Gingrich said.
The majority of the address was dedicated to circling back on those very policy proposals. Gingrich predicted that his proposed lunar colony was an inevitability during the lifetime of his grandchildren, who joined him on stage.
"This is not a trivial area, this is a fundamental question about whether our country still dreams and seeks great adventure," Gingrich said.
He contrasted that vision to one where youth were mired in addiction to "meth and crack cocaine."
And while acknowledging some of his policy platforms were "providing material for Saturday Night Live," Gingrich pledged to press on fighting for the reorganization of government, privatization of Social Security, and energy independence through increased drilling.
"America is a complex mosaic of self government. The presidency matters, but so do all the other mosaics of self government," Gingrich said, explaining how he could continue to influence the discussion.
There was little suspense preceding Gingrich's exit. He and his aides signaled the end was near after the former House Speaker was blown out in a series of Northeastern primaries in mid-April. Last week, his campaign said that it would be Gingrich's last week on the campaign trail, an unusual move as most political candidates don't provide so much notice about leaving a race.
But little was conventional about Gingrich's roller-coaster fight for the Republican nomination, one that at times saw vacillate wildly between longshot and frontrunner.
"I could never have predicted either the low points or the high points," Gingrich said, calling the race "a truly wild ride."
— This story was updated at 4:36 p.m.