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Newt Gingrich all but endorsed Mitt Romney during a campaign stop in Manhattan last night, but told New York Republicans that he is staying in the race because of a “moral obligation to defeat Barack Obama.”Speaking at the New York GOP’s annual dinner, Gingrich said he is “dedicated to a unified Republican party.”
“I am clearly the underdog in this race,” Gingrich said, adding that if Romney is nominated, “I will work all out because it’s our grandchildren’s futures at stake.”
The speech indicates a major conciliatory shift for Gingrich, who until now has maintained that he will fight Romney until the convention, even as his campaign came sputtering to a halt.
But don’t mistake this apparent rapprochement for a change of heart.
“Let me just say in closing, because I don’t want any of you to be confused about this, I don’t want the media to be confused — I stayed in the race to articulate big themes and big issues,” Gingrich said last night.
Gingrich even used Thursday’s speech to present his latest big plan — a United Nations treaty that would make owning guns a “human right.”
“Frankly, in a place like Darfur, if the public were able to protect themselves, there would be fewer murders, fewer robbers, fewer rapists,” Gingrich said. “We have an obligation as Americans to communicate why American liberty has lasted, and to communicate why the principles of that liberty should be spread across the planet.”
The “Gingrich Treaty,” as he calls it, is so obviously backwards that it’s almost not worth rebutting. (The problem in Darfur has never been that people weren’t allowed to have guns, and even if that was the case, a U.N. treaty probably wouldn’t do much to help anyway.)
Ideas like the treaty — and the moon colonies and the child janitors — are part of what made Gingrich such an alarming presidential candidate. But as political strategy, Newt’s crazy ideas may actually be kind of brilliant.
Take, for example, Newt’s $2.50 gallon gas pledge, another “big theme” that Gingrich discussed at length Thursday night. Although the message was dismissed as campaign gimmick, Gingrich was actually the first Republican to tie the recent spike in gas prices to President Obama. National Republicans quickly followed his lead, and within a week, #250gas was trending on Twitter and Obama was on his way to Florida to deliver a speech on domestic energy. Romney, on the other hand, largely skated over the energy issue, and has still yet to present any type of energy platform.
It’s worth remembering here that Gingrich’s biggest accomplishments in his political career have been strategic. The former House Speaker is basically the godfather of 21st century partisan rancor. His crowning achievement was orchestrating the Republican sweep in 1994, which was the first election in which Republican candidates ran on a unified campaign platform.
Manichean rhetoric and grandiose promises may not make for great governance, but they can help win elections. Gingrich’s right-to-bear-arms-treaty is actually just a foil for the Obama administration’s proposed U.N. Small Arms Treaty, which aims to curb arms trafficking globally. Obama has made little effort to tighten gun control laws domestically, so his attempt to limit access to guns overseas could present the best target for the GOP on the issue.
Romney could probably benefit from taking a page out of Gingrich’s playbook. Rather than talking about his own lame “varmint” hunting, for example, he should probably be talking more about the Founding Fathers and the Second Amendment.
In fact, the Republican frontrunner has yet to set the tone on any issue, and now runs the risk of letting the race define him, rather than the other way around.
If last night’s remarks are any indication, Gingrich seems to think he can help. And if the 2012 race has proved anything, it’s that it’s a lot easier to get people to listen if you’re running for president.
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