CLEVELAND — Newt Gingrich could have been promoting a new history book in the basement of a book store on Wednesday night.
But he was actually promoting a candidate, or at least trying to promote a candidate, or at least trying to put a band-aid on a wound that was still throbbing in the Quicken Loans Arena.
The venue was losing power as Ted Cruz walked off the stage after torching the arena and all inside by not bending at the knee to the new GOP overlord Donald Trump. As the ashes still smoldered with boos ringing from the rafters, the best Gingrich could do was try to extinguish the simmering embers.
“I think you misunderstood one paragraph,” Gingrich said before citing a line that turned the delegates on the floor rabid just moments earlier. “Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience for anyone who will uphold the Constitution this election.”
Trying to shift the tide back to the man of the hour, Gingrich just accentuated the elephant in the room.
“This election, there’s only one candidate who will uphold the Constitution,” he said referring to Trump but reminding the crowd that that other guy had just pissed everyone off as he launched his prospective 2020 campaign.
These lines, which were not in his initial prepared remarks, preceded a passage where Gingrich praised the weatherworn figures of the Republican establishment who showed up tonight but didn’t enthusiastically endorse.
“With no requirement of endorsement, [Trump] encouraged his competitors to speak once again,” Gingrich said. “Governor Rick Perry, Governor Chris Christie, Governor Scott Walker, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz all responded.”
Yet just hours before, after Gingrich and his wife, Callista, premiered a new George Washington film they produced called The First American at the local Tower City Cinemas in a Cleveland mall, the former speaker told The Daily Beast that unity in the party didn’t really matter.
“Of course not,” he said in a response to a question about whether the party was unified after 48 hours in the Buckeye State. “This is a remarkable insurgency. Never seen something like it in my life.”
But does it matter? Is it significant that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort dismissed Ohio Governor John Kasich and essentially called the Bushes dinosaurs on Monday?
“The guy carried 37 states, got more votes than anybody in history as a Republican—more than Reagan, more than Eisenhower, more than anybody,” Gingrich said as we paraded through the food court at the shopping center. “At some point you think ‘Gee, maybe he’s doing something right,’ and ‘maybe it’s all the people who are worried who don’t get it.’”
Yet when he stood before the thrashing masses, the white-haired historian changed his tune. It was all about unity. And Trump had pulled off the unthinkable—he graciously let all the sad sacks he beat in the primary come and speak on his behalf the night before he was set to be crowned king.
Gingrich, whose principal daily projects are Facebook live broadcasts and movie productions—he said he has several on the way—narrowly avoided the prize (or hardship) that was being Trump’s second in command.
He no doubt still wants to be involved, telling reporters on Wednesday that in the Trump administration he’d like “to plan how we fundamentally overhaul the system.”
Earlier this year, according to sources close the campaign, that vague description was best encapsulated by a chief of staff position for which Gingrich had been privately pushing.
“Since Donald does not have any substance, Newt thought that he could get in there and be the de facto president,” one source said of his jockeying during the campaign.
After privately lobbying on Trump’s behalf in Washington, D.C., Gingrich would periodically advise the Trump campaign and often appear as a stalwart advocate on Fox News, hoping to ride the crest when it was high, while standing as a voice of reason when it was low.
But on Wednesday, after the dust settled and Gingrich ended up being the warm-up act to Trump’s vice presidential pick Mike Pence, he tried to play both sides of the aisle; praising Trump as the gallant outsider laying waste to the establishment while emphasizing the importance of party unity.
Yet like the quick remarks he made to a half-crowded movie theater in the afternoon—“making movies is very complicated”—Gingrich’s appeals for Trump fell on deaf ears.
As the incandescent “Make America Great Again” faded from view on the banner above the Trump family’s box, the real-estate mogul had temporarily left, with Gingrich still on the stage pouring it all out.