Byron York

For example, one beautiful morning a few days before the Florida primary, Gingrich appeared at a rally in a perfectly picturesque waterfront setting at Lake Dora. Standing before a big, happy crowd, Gingrich -- under fire not only from Romney but from conservative commentators who seemed to gang up on him all at once -- launched into a dyspeptic prologue to his stump speech, denouncing Romney's "gall" and mud-slinging.

It was no way to build support. But even with his raging resentment toward Romney's tactics, Gingrich could still shine on the stump. In Cape Canaveral, he delivered a remarkably good speech on space policy; it was smart, filled with substance, even inspiring. A few days later, Romney came to the Space Coast and delivered a lackluster message that mostly showed he had no space policy at all. And after that, Romney, the man with no ideas on space, mocked Gingrich for having ideas, saying if he were still in business he would fire Gingrich for coming up with a crazy plan like establishing a base on the moon.

Gingrich, usually quick on his feet, thought of a good comeback only later. Romney, he said, "is the kind of guy who would have fired Christopher Columbus."

Gingrich never recovered from Romney's thrashing in Florida, although he later won his home state of Georgia by a huge margin. With that exception, the Gingrich campaign faltered step by step. First Gingrich was going to win the nomination. Then he was going to keep Romney from winning the nomination. Then he was going to fight for conservative positions in the Republican platform. Then he withdrew.

In an organizational sense, Gingrich never really had much of a campaign. But he is a serious man who has accomplished big things in his life, and his presence made the race a more substantial affair. And it's fair to say Romney became a better candidate after facing the Gingrich challenge. Even those Republicans who never wanted Gingrich to win should be glad he ran.

Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner