Gingrich insists he'll run until Romney has 1,144 delegates

Newt Gingrich insisted Monday that he would continue in the fight for the Republican presidential nomination until Mitt Romney secured the 1,144 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination, saying "a whole new conversation" would occur if the front-runner were unable to hit the necessary total.

"I think the morning that he gets 1,144 that are locked down, then I think he can claim to be the nominee. But until then, he's not the nominee," Gingrich said on CNN. "Remember, I'm from Atlanta, where we were ahead by 10.5 games last year with only 28 games to go, and the Cardinals didn't quit. Everybody wanted them to, but they just kept coming and they ended up winning. I think this is not over until it's over. "

The former House Speaker went on to acknowledge that while Romney was the front-runner, he had not given a dominating performance in the primaries thus far.

"Look, I think the front-runner's clearly Mitt Romney. Out of 10 million votes cast so far, he's only gotten 4 million. So he's the weakest front-runner in modern times," Gingrich said.

Gingrich defended his candidacy from calls from Republican leaders — and some of his own supporters — to exit the race.

"I say to them the same thing that Hillary Clinton would have said in 2008 when she was taking on Barack Obama. That ran all the way to mid-June, and only when he had finally the votes did he have the votes. This is a contest," Gingrich said. 

"Gov. Romney spent six years, $40 million of his own money. He has outspent the rest of us by huge margins, and he's gotten 4 million out of 10 million votes. There is no obligation to concede it to him. If he can win it, more power to him. If he doesn't win it, then June, July and August become very interesting months," Gingrich said.

Host Wolf Blitzer then pressed Gingrich to admit that rival Rick Santorum had a better shot at winning the nomination than did Gingrich in a disputed convention.

"But he doesn't have a guaranteed lock any more than I do or Romney does," Gingrich said. "You have a whole new conversation if we end up on the 27th of June with no one having 1,144 votes."

The former House Speaker also said he was not concerned about his legacy or reputation as the bruising GOP fight wore on.

"Look, first of all, I wasn't worried last June, which you remember well, Wolf, when almost everybody in the media said I was dead. It didn't worry me a bit, because I knew it wasn't true," Gingrich said.

Gingrich went on to discuss President Obama's healthcare reform legislation. The Supreme Court heard the first of three days of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the legislation — and specifically the individual mandate — on Monday.

Gingrich — who supported the individual mandate in the 1990s — said he opposed the legislation because it did not include an opt-out for those who did not want to be included under the law.

"I always said that there had to be an opt-out clause for people who felt that it was inappropriate, that they had to have other ways of meeting their financial responsibilities and you could not require everyone — I always felt strongly that there had to be a libertarian opt-out clause," Gingrich said. "There is no such opt-out in ObamaCare. It is an effort to coerce every single American. I think that in that sense, it is — my guess is they're going to find it unconstitutional. And the only question will be whether they recognize that there's no severability clause because it was rammed through without any kind of amendments in conference because they had lost Teddy Kennedy's seat in the Senate in a special election."

Gingrich went on to say the overturn of the legislation would be "a historic decision."

"If the court holds to the strict ruling and they decide the mandate is unconstitutional, with no severability clause, that would make the entire bill unconstitutional," Gingrich said. "That would truly be a historic decision."