Phi Kappa Newt

TAMPA – The post-speakership Newt Gingrich holds a warm and special place in the political reporter’s heart. Gingrich’s failed 2012 presidential campaign did not change that. After all, it failed less than any of the hacks had predicted – the guy won two states.

This, and the lack of any official convention events today, drew a fair-sized pack of reporters to Newt University. For four days, at 10 a.m., Gingrich will wrangle guests and charts and present them to whatever delegates feel like showing up. The sessions would last two hours. Gingrich would give opening remarks, and closing remarks, and introductions for every guest – which led to him pronouncing a great many things as “very interesting.”

Gingrich’s former spokesman R.C. Hammond stood at the back of the room, explaining why Newt was doing this. “[Romney campaign manager] Matt Rhodes came to Newt,” he said, “a week after he suspended the campaign, and asked what he’d like to do.”

Only 100 or so people showed up to listen, and what they heard was less wonky, more a rational for electing Mitt Romney. (Staging aside, it would be strange if they heard anything else.) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert waxed on about Romney’s role at the 2002 Olympics. “Not only did he turn it around,” he said, “but we actually made a profit!” Gingrich backed him up, reminding the crowd that he, too, had helped out with the Salt Lake games, arguably the best Winter Olympics ever, because of “the experience we had with the games in Atlanta in 1996.”

Gov. Scott Walker talked less about Romney, and more about the real need to win gubernatorial elections in forgotten states – Montana, Missouri, etc. (The delegates I sat near, from the Badger state, wore bright red badges that asked “Don’t You Wish You Were From Wisconsin?”) Not much hardcore wonking to be had. The story of the Wisconsin reforms and recall did not get into collective bargaining reforms, at all. Walker merely explained that “we don’t have teacher tenure” in the state, thanks to reforms. That line killed. Gingrich reminded all of us that he’d once admired “the new executive of Milwaukee County,” and that he looked forward to the election of “Tommy Thompson, who’ll be a great senator.” He was comfortably returning to his old role, as a statesman-booster with nothing bad to say about the party’s strivers.