WASHINGTON -- Newt Gingrich talked for more than 30 minutes near the end of the day Friday at the annual CPAC conference, and spent most of his time rattling off, in bullet point fashion, policies he would eliminate and policies he would enact if elected.
"We need to teach the Republican establishment a lesson," Gingrich said.
The former House speaker's particular point was this: "We are determined to rebuild America, not manage its decay."
But that was beside the point. Teaching the establishment a lesson has become Gingrich's raison d'etre, his reason for being, since most of those in Washington and in the Republican party establishment have pointedly rejected him and his candidacy.
Mitt Romney is the representative of that establishment to Gingrich, because most of the money and many of the big name elected officials in the party have sided with the former Massachusetts governor over him.
But increasingly, Gingrich's biggest threat is from former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), whose victory in three states this week pushed him ahead of Gingrich in the contest. Gingrich and Santorum may try to run simultaneously through the rest of the primary, but Gingrich's speech here Friday had an oddly deflated feel to it.
It was the same laundry list of topics and to-do's that have characterized Gingrich's speeches after primary contests. He gave similar remarks after his South Carolina win and after his Florida loss. Its thematic core was that he is a "mortal threat" to the establishment.
An establishment candidate cannot win the general election, Gingrich said, because "they don't have the toughness, they don't have the commitment and they don't have the philosophy necessary."
"We intend to change Washington, not accommodate it," he said.
Gingrich talked for at least five minutes about which of President Barack Obama's policies he would undo if elected to the White House, and summed it up this way: "We will have repudiated at least 40 percent of his government on the opening day."
He did not mention Santorum and referenced Romney only once, by way of saying that he would not raise Romney's taxes above 15 percent but would instead cut the rest of the nation's to match that.
His most aggressive attack on Obama focused on the president's decision that he would not allow religiously affiliated employers to deny birth control coverage in employee health insurance plans. Gingrich said that he did not trust reports that the White House backtracked from its original position on the issue to offer a compromise.
"I frankly don't care what deal he tries to cut," Gingrich thundered. "If he wins reelection, he will wage war on the Catholic church the morning after he's reelected. We cannot trust him. We know who he really is and we should make sure the country knows who he really is."
But the most captivating thing about Gingrich's speech may have been the impressive-looking, professionally photoshopped picture of Gingrich standing in front of several public figures who have endorsed him, which was shown on huge video screens on both sides of him while he spoke.
Over Gingrich's left shoulder, in a row: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, Michael Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan, and Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer.
Over Gingrich's right shoulder: former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), pollster and Gingrich adviser Kellyanne Conway, former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and TV star Chuck Norris.
"We have a conservative dream team," Gingrich said at one point, referencing the photo. "But in the end, we need you."
Gingrich was introduced by his wife, Callista Gingrich, who has up until now almost never spoken in public. She spoke stiffly for a few minutes, but got in a funny dig at Romney, who recently sang "America the Beautiful" at a few campaign stops.
Callista said that her husband supports her singing in the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but does not himself sing in public.
"I am personally grateful for his wisdom in not trying to sing as a candidate," Callista said. "He knows his limitations."