Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich formally suspended his presidential campaign Wednesday at the Hilton Arlington in Ballston after what he called "a truly wild ride."
"I could have never predicted either the low points or the high points," Gingrich, a Republican, said in front of more than 100 reporters and a handful of local people who managed to squeeze in to a small room at the in Ballston.
Gingrich, flanked by his wife Callista, two grandchildren and other family members, thanked a long list of supporters, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, pizza magnate Herman Caine and Todd Palin. He recounted victories in Georgia, where he once lived and represented in Congress, and South Carolina, which has for decades picked the Republican nominee for president. He apologized to the voters of South Carolina for breaking their tradition.
"Today, I'm suspending the campaign," said Gingrich, who now lives in McLean. "But suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship."
Gingrich said he was committed to keeping America "free, safe and prosperous." He said he's spent his lifetime trying to shape the national debate by doing such things as authoring 24 books and appearing in seven documentaries.
Toward the end of his 23-minute speech, Gingrich said he and Callista would campaign for a Republican president, a Republican House, Republican Senate, Republican governors and Republican state legislators.
Gingrich said he was often asked about whether presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney was conservative. He said his reaction was to rhetorically ask, "Compared to Barack Obama?"
"This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan," Gingrich said. "This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in American history."
Romney would be better than Obama on job creation and appointing judges and federal regulators, Gingrich said.
"A Republican sweep this fall would revitalize America just as the Reagan sweep of 1980 revitalized America," he said.
Before that, the former speaker listed a hefty number of policy issues he and his wife would be engaged in going forward, including:
- Religious liberty, which he said he would be spending a "great deal" of time on;
- American energy independence, which he said if done right could provide trillions in royalties that a disciplined Congress could use to pay off the national debt and never again give cause for an American president to bow to a Saudi king;
- Re-emphasizing the work ethic, which he said includes lobbying to require those who receive unemployment to also take job training classes;
- National security, which he said still doesn't include a "grand strategy" against radical Islam.
Gingrich said his wife had reminded him more than 200 times that his "moon comment was not my most clever comment in this campaign." But, he said, the underlying key point is real, and he cited several ongoing private space programs — including an asteroid-mining program that has backing from Google executives.
He said he would "cheerfully" take the issue of space back up: "If we're going to be the leading country in the world, we have to be the leading country in space."
"This is not a trivial area," Gingrich said. "This is a fundamental question of whether we're still a country that dreams and goes out to pursue adventure, and that has the courage to say to young people, yes, you need to learn math and science, because you'll have a wonderful future doing very important things. I happen to think that's a better future than methamphetamine and cocaine. And I'm going to argue for a Romantic American future of doing things that matter."
Corinne Walters, who works in a nearby building, and a few of her coworkers managed to squeeze in to see the Gingrich speech live.
"Every campaign is a piece of history, so it's fun to come be a part of that," said Walters, 23, of Ballston. "And this Republican race has been particularly volatile."