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Five things to miss about Newt Gingrich (Hint: fly me to the moon)

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks in Brunswick, Ga., March 2, 2012.

Evan Vucci/AP/Evan Vucci/AP

He gave the Republican leadership campaign big ideas, bombast and a never-give-up attitude.

On Wednesday afternoon, in an address from Virginia, Newt Gingrich officially ends his campaign after conceding that Mitt Romney will be the Republican party's presidential nominee.

There are still some loose ends to tie up: a $4-million Gingrich campaign debt, which the Romney campaign has kindly offered to help with; and how exactly to embrace front-runner Mitt Romney's candidacy. Lacklustre seems to be the pattern among former GOP candidates.

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As Newt Gingrich's candidacy draws to an end, here are five things people are likely to miss about a candidate who provided campaign drama and chuckles:

1. His grandiose ideas

"By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," Mr. Gingrich told a Florida audience in January.

No idea generated as much interest and fun as Mr. Gingrich's goal to put a human colony on the moon – a display of American science and space ambition intended to impress Republican voters ahead of the Florida primary in late January.

Except few were impressed, and the jokes about 'Astro-Newt' were unrelenting.

"Newt and his family should be among the first colonists on the moon," read one tweet.

Another tweet read: "By the end of my second term as president, we will have completed the Time Portal and will dispatch ambassadors to each era in History!"

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A big idea, badly timed as Americans worried about government debt, deficits and a slow economic recovery.

2. Throwing 'objectivity' to the wind

For a candidate who saw a silver lining in every defeat – and there were many – and for a politician who trudged on even as his strategy to focus on Southern states crumbled, Mr. Gingrich had trouble facing the facts.

He was never going to catch Mr. Romney in the delegates count. Even when Rick Santorum dropped out of the race, Mr. Gingrich seemed to relish the chance to go one-on-one against the front-runner as the "last conservative standing."

The objective facts were clear to most – except Mr. Gingrich. Until last week, that is.

Mr. Gingrich spoke to reporters in North Carolina about the need to be honest, saying that there are times when what's happening in the "real world" does not match up with "what you'd like to have happened."

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"I think obviously that I would be a better candidate, but the objective fact is the voters didn't think that," said the former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

That is about as "objective" as Newt Gingrich gets.

3. His debate stage prowess

Except when he was getting a debate night 'smack down' by Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich used the debate stage to great effect. He energized audiences and gave new life to his candidacy.

His win in the South Carolina primary – one of two wins in the entire primary calendar – was the result of strong debate performances, often at the expense of the moderators.

The most memorable was his attack on the "elite media" which included a rebuke of CNN moderator John King for beginning a South Carolina debate with a question about allegations that Mr. Gingrich sought an "open marriage." The audience loved it.

There were times when Mr. Gingrich looked flat and sounded defensive on stage.

And even if he does not fulfill his personal wish – to debate President Barack Obama in seven debates, each lasting three hours – Mr. Gingrich no doubt helped make the 20 televised Republican leadership debates memorable.

4. His ability to distil his opponent's weakness

No phrase tapped in to the Republican grassroots angst over the Romney candidacy like 'Massachusetts moderate' – a label Mr. Gingrich attached to his rival at practically every opportunity.

The phrase touched on the nervousness of the GOP base around choosing a northeast establishment Republican whose conservative credentials were questionable in eyes of very conservative and evangelical voters.

The idea that Mr. Romney was not 'conservative enough' forced the former Massachusetts governor further to the right and to declare before a gathering of conservative activists in Washington, D.C. that, in fact, he was "severely conservative."

The Obama campaign now has its own label that it can attach to Mr. Romney: a 'severely conservative' and 'extreme' presidential candidate.

5. His ability to rise from the dead

Mr. Gingrich's strategy as of late sounded a bit like a candidate waiting in the wings in case the front-runner suffers a catastrophic stumble.

But the fact is that the former Georgia congressman's campaign witnessed several dark moments. High-profile Gingrich team resignations and a withering campaign of attack ads would be enough to derail most campaigns.

Instead, Mr. Gingrich bounced back, surged in the polls, only to fall again. The pattern repeated itself and left many observers wondering whether he could mount yet another comeback.

His GOP leadership bid was a remarkable second act for a politician whose rocky tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1990s became a focus on the campaign trail. In 2016, were there to be another GOP leadership race, Mr. Gingrich would be 72 years old – that's four years younger than the Mr. Romney rival still standing: Congressman Ron Paul.

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