WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich began taking steps Wednesday to shut down his debt-laden White House bid, setting the stage to endorse onetime rival Mitt Romney next week and rally Republicans behind their apparent nominee.
Gingrich had a friendly telephone conversation Wednesday with Romney and started planning an event where he would throw his support behind the presumptive nominee, a Gingrich spokesman said. The pair agreed to work together.
"It's clear Romney is the nominee and the focus should be on defeating Obama. We should not focus on defeating ourselves," Gingrich told disappointed supporters in Kings Mountain, N.C., the morning after Romney swept primary contests in five states.
Gingrich also called Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and supporters, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in states with upcoming primaries to inform them of the decision.
He had been under pressure for some time to leave the race and clear a path for Romney.
"You have to at some point be honest about what's happening in the real world as opposed to what you would like to have happened," he told supporters at a suburban Charlotte, N.C., restaurant.
Gingrich, 68, declined to comment when asked about his plans multiple times during the Kings Mountain stop.
He will shift to helping Republican candidates across the country, paying off more than $4.3 million in campaign debt and rebuilding his reputation among conservatives.
His campaign tested conventional wisdom from the beginning. Could the politically divisive figure — shamed by an ethics investigation and subsequent reprimand, pushed out of congressional leadership and saddled with marital scandal — find acceptance among cultural conservatives?
His campaign was full of contradictions. He pointed to his 20 years as a congressman from Georgia, including four as House speaker, and claimed a political kinship with President Ronald Reagan. Yet he also contended to be an outsider and anti-establishment candidate.
Gingrich's campaign lacked money and organization as it got under way. Observers also questioned whether the famously bombastic ex-congressman could maintain the discipline needed for a successful national campaign.
Within days of his formal announcement on May 11, 2011, he provided ample reason to think he could not.
First, Gingrich criticized a conservative-backed plan for revamping Medicare as promoting "radical change" and "right-wing social engineering," drawing an intense backlash from Republicans. He then grudgingly acknowledged that he and his wife, Callista, had a $500,000 credit account at the jeweler Tiffany & Co. but proclaimed "we are very frugal." Within weeks, the couple embarked on a cruise in Greece, which led to a mass exodus of campaign staff amid grumbling that he wasn't serious enough about his campaign.
After a string of disappointments, Gingrich found the reversal his campaign needed in South Carolina. His only other win was in his home state of Georgia.
After Romney won Florida's primary, Gingrich declared he would stay in the race through to the national convention.