Most people thought it would end badly. But nobody knew it would happen this quickly.

Republican strategists, conservative activists, and pundits of all stripes couldn’t figure out why 67-year-old Newt Gingrich, 12 years after leaving his last job in public office, thought he could win the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. At worst, they saw him as a thrice-married, over-the-hill politician whose decade-long stint as a pundit on Fox News had exacerbated his self-sabotaging penchant for outrageous commentary.