What Newt Gingrich Lost by Running for President

His almost certainly failed campaign for the Republican nomination leaves his stature diminished -- and his empire in shambles.


LANCASTER, Penn. -- Newt Gingrich has gotten noticeably fatter over the course of his campaign. His belly bulged onto his lap as he sat on a yellow couch in the basement of a Lancaster, Penn., Marriott one recent night; he had fastened only one of the two buttons on his black suit jacket, and even it appeared to be straining. In this sense, and perhaps this sense only, Gingrich has not been diminished by his ongoing quest for the presidency.

In all other ways, however, Gingrich is a man reduced. And it is not at all clear he will ever be able to get back the many things he has lost.

These days, Gingrich attracts more attention for having been bitten by a zoo penguin than for a policy proposal, even a totally outlandish one. Recently, at the convention of the National Rifle Association, he proposed an international treaty to make the right to bear arms a universal human right; the nation shrugged, if it even noticed.

Gingrich barely even rated a mention in the program for the Tuesday night dinner of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County, a conservative community in the heart of Southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish country. The program's cover image: "Featured Guest Gov. Mitt Romney." Inside, there was a full-page bio of Romney; Gingrich's name appeared only as a line in the agenda -- last, save for the presentation of gifts and live auction -- and in paid advertisements taken out by local politicians.

Earlier the same day, Gingrich had alerted his nearly one-and-a-half million Twitter followers to a BuzzFeed post entitled "The 25 Cutest Pictures of Newt Gingrich with Zoo Animals." Gingrich's tweet: "This is fun. Thx for sharing," followed by the BuzzFeed writer's original tweet of the link. Despite his refusal to drop out and make it official, the political world had not been taking Gingrich seriously as a candidate for some weeks, but with the tweet, Gingrich seemed to be acknowledging his own status as a figure of ridicule.

Prior to running for president, Newt Gingrich had built a very good life for himself. The former speaker of the House of Representatives resided in posh McLean, Va., with his third wife, who enjoyed expensive jewelry and singing in church choir.

He ran a profitable empire of think tanks, wrote and co-wrote books of fiction and nonfiction, appeared on television as a commentator, and traveled the country giving speeches, basking in his role as GOP elder statesman. Inevitably, as he finished one of his fiery orations on the endless circuit of rubber-chicken dinners, local activists would come away starry-eyed, wishing this dazzling man, with his charisma, insight and seemingly endless ideas, would find it in him to run for president.

Today, much of that empire is in a shambles.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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