Timing of Gingrich exit from GOP race has observers scratching their heads

Newt Gingrich will exit the presidential race — but not until next week, raising eyebrows about what exactly the former Speaker hopes to achieve in his final days on the campaign trail.

The conventional wisdom is that Gingrich is taking some kind of strange victory lap, gathering family and supporters in North Carolina for a final hurrah before exiting stage right.


But Gingrich is also looking to position himself as an influential figure at this summer's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., repair some of the relationships he has strained through the bruising GOP primary process and work to settle the massive debt his campaign has accrued in recent months.

There’s another reason Gingrich might be opting to stretch out his farewell — his final week of campaign events includes a lot of fun. Stops include a baseball game where Gingrich will throw out the first pitch, a visit to the base of a NASCAR racing team and a tour of a North Carolina zoo. For Gingrich, it might just be the last chance to enjoy the trappings of the campaign trail.

"We're going to stay very, very active," Gingrich told supporters in North Carolina on Wednesday. "We're working out the details of our transition and will have information for the press over the next couple of days.

"I am committed to this party," he added. "I am committed to defeating [President] Obama. We're will try to find ways to be helpful."

Gingrich aides say that the candidate hopes to have a prominent speaking spot at the convention and help shape the party’s policy platform.

"Newt is committed to helping the Republican Party take back the White House and help Speaker BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi MORE maintain the Republican majority in the House, along with winning back the Senate, because a governing coalition of Republicans is as important as just winning the presidency," said Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond. 

It’s unclear the role Gingrich will be able to play, especially after alienating much of the Republican establishment by overstaying his welcome in the presidential race. Even Wednesday, as word that he had decided to exit the race trickled out, Gingrich maintained he thought "obviously that I would be a better candidate" than presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.

But aides say Gingrich will begin advocating on behalf of Romney more passionately, with hints that his final week of campaigning will likely build toward an official endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor. On Wednesday, Romney called Gingrich and asked for his support throughout the remainder of the campaign, according to CNN.

Despite obvious raw feelings in the aftermath of a bloody campaign — one in which Gingrich admitted he sometimes "missed the target" by attacking Romney's time at Bain Capital or calling the former governor a "liar" — Republican strategists say there is still a chance for the former Speaker to return to the GOP’s good graces. 

"His real path forward is as a spokesman for the Romney and the GOP pressing Obama on energy prices," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "It really depends how he conducts himself, but if he's the only one really good at synthesizing 15-second sound bites to describe America's energy woes, that could make him valuable for the GOP going into November." 

If Gingrich can successfully bury the hatchet, that could bode well for his aspirations for a prominent role at the Republican convention.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) said Wednesday that it was still too early in the process to sort out what kind of roles — and potential speaking slots — the Republican field would hold at the convention.

"There's no doubt that we're going to have conversations with all the remaining candidates about their role at the convention," said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. "But it's still very early in that process."

Meanwhile, RNC chief Reince Priebus said he believes Gingrich would undoubtedly be a significant figure for the party going forward.

"I have a lot of respect for Speaker Gingrich. I think he's really smart. I think he's got a lot of great ideas. I suspect he's going to be very helpful to Gov. Romney in any way he can. I think he's going to be a team player," Priebus told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

Gingrich will also look to settle the substantial debt his campaign has accreted as he’s slipped in the polls. According to Federal Election Commission filings, at the end of last month, Gingrich’s campaign carried more than $4.3 million in debt.

The former Speaker doesn’t have any additional fundraisers scheduled, and is unlikely to raise the money necessary to settle that debt without help from the Romney campaign. That’s likely part of negotiations for an endorsement, and Gingrich has a bit of leverage, considering the Winning our Future super-PAC, run by his former aide Rick Tyler, reported having about $5 million in the bank — which could be spent during the general election.

“I think a lot of this is just closing down — dotting the I’s and crossing the T's,” O’Connell said. “It's most likely geared to raise money to pay down his enormous debt.”

Most memorable moments of Gingrich’s campaign

Here are some of the most noteworthy moments from Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid:

Gingrich slams Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer MORE’s budget: Gingrich’s campaign got off to an inauspicious start with conservative voters when the candidate warned that the House GOP budget amounted to “right-wing social engineering.” He eventually reversed course on the plan.

Tiffany’s credit line revealed: Financial records revealed that Gingrich and his wife, Callista, carried a credit line of nearly half a million dollars with the luxury jeweler, in addition to tens of thousands in credit card obligations. 

Greek islands cruise and staff resignations: Just weeks into the campaign, the Gingriches took a luxury cruise in the Greek Isles. Upon returning to the States, Gingrich found a campaign in disarray as the majority of his staff resigned en masse.

Poor children should work as janitors: Gingrich’s proposal to empower poor children (and eliminate unionized service workers in schools) drew howls of protest from labor and civil rights groups, which called the plan paternalistic and unfeasible.

“Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?” “Yes.”: After a series of withering campaign ads funded by a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney eroded Gingrich’s lead in Iowa, Gingrich took a pointed jab at the eventual Republican nominee

Romney as the predatory capitalist: Still enraged by Romney’s attack ads, Gingrich backed a super-PAC ad highly critical of Romney’s time at Bain Capital. The ad was denounced by many prominent conservatives, who accused Gingrich of attacking capitalism, and the former Speaker later admitted he “missed the target.”

The “despicable” debate question: A controversial report by ABC News, in which one of Gingrich's former wives claimed he had requested an "open marriage," aired shortly before the South Carolina primary, giving the former Speaker a new opportunity to lambaste the media. That debate performance was widely credited in pushing Gingrich over the top in the Palmetto State, his lone victory outside of Georgia.

The moon colony: Campaigning before residents of Florida’s Space Coast, Gingrich made an admittedly “grandiose” call for a “Northwest Ordinance for Space” that included construction of a moon colony. The plan was widely lampooned and became the subject of a sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”

A lackluster debate and Florida primary loss: Romney dominated the debate shortly before the state’s pivotal winner-take-all primary, which he went on to win, dealing a blow to Gingrich’s campaign.

The penguin bite: Gingrich made stops at local zoos a trademark of his campaign, but that came back to bite him — literally — earlier this month. Gingrich was nipped on the finger during a behind-the-scenes tour with two Magellanic penguins at the St. Louis Zoo, drawing widespread attention in the media and on Twitter.