Looking at some of the statistics, it's not obvious why Gingrich is considered less important than Rick Santorum. He has more endorsements than Rick Santorum, and more total primary-goers have voted for him. Heck he even has the most twitter followers!
Of course though, we know that he's been badly beaten in recent contests. He has won fewer states and has fewer delegates to his credit than both Santorum and Romney. His nemesis throughout the primary has been Mitt Romney, who he has accused of attacking him with ads and misrepresenting his record. The two have sparred in past debates and many people expected that this debate would show Gingrich at his most pugnacious and aggressive. Michele Bachmann's former campaign adviser put it simply, “he's got one shot.”
Interestingly, Gingrich did not opt for extreme aggression in his last stand. Prior to the debate, Gingrich promised that he would try to focus on big issues like his energy plan. He also pledged to “stay out of the kind of negativity that unfortunately has characterized way too much of this race.” He also said he would try to focus on his energy plan.
He only kind of succeeded at this master plan, and even then, it was because no one baited him, which would have been enough to drive him into the discussion with more passion.
Gingrich was able to intercede in some squabbling between Romney and Santorum and did so in a grandiose fashion, and on earmarks Gingrich took the side of Romney and said that “he supported the governor.” He also talked broadly about the competence and modernity of the government, trying to craft a grand vision.
He was also able to talk about his energy plan, but he didn't have too much opportunity to bring it up, as auto-bailouts and earmarks were the most contentious early discussions. He could have brought up the relationship between energy and the auto industry, but he didn't.
At points though, he got angry. On the issue of auto bailouts, he criticized Romney heavily, and said that writing checks to the auto industry was wrong and that it was was a violation of bankruptcy law at the expense of bondholders.
For the most part though, Gingrich was quiet, simply because his views weren't very important for this debate and his moment of influence had passed. There was no blow up in the debate between Romney and Gingrich. Is it possible that they got over their bad blood?
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore