We did but see him passing by … like the Hindenberg on the way towards that mast. Yes, this week Newton Leroy Gingrich all but bowed out of the race for the Republican nomination, with his spokesman R.C. Hammond yes, he is called M.C. Hammer all the time), announcing that Gingrich had spoken to Romney by phone, and would hold an event to officially drop out of the race and endorse him next week.

Gingrich loathes Romney, loathes the Republican National Committee party centre, and he would have given anything to stay in the race, had there been a skerrick of a narrative left, something he could hang on to, as a symbol of his addled belief that there was a conservative groundswell behind him.

In the lead-up to the “mini-Tuesday” primary held two days ago — a northern-focused group principally comprising Pennsylvania and New York — Gingrich had hoped to keep his campaign going by pulling out a victory in of all places, Delaware, the smallest of the five primaries on offer (Connecticut and Rhode Island rounded it out).

Northern Delaware is a chemical plant, but the lower half behaves like a southern state. It’s a measure of how desperate the Gingrich campaign had become that its continuation turned on a few farming towns on a forgotten coast.

In the end he couldn’t even make that — while turn out in New York, etc, was 3-5% of eligible voters, a whopping 16% of eligible Delawareans turned out, dashing Gingrich’s hopes that he could take the state with less than a thousand extra voters.

Results elsewhere were similarly humiliating. He was beaten into third place by Ron Paul in Connecticut — Paul gained 13% to Gingrich’s 10%, New York 15% to 12%, and trounced in Rhode Island, with 6% to Paul’s 24% (Romney got 60+% in both states).

In Pennsylvania, he suffered the ultimate ignominy of being beaten to fourth by a candidate no longer in the race, with Rick Santorum gaining 18%, Paul 13%, and Gingrich on 10%. Santorum himself had pulled out of the race after it became clear that he was going to lose his home state of Pennsylvania, due to a spending bomb by Romney, and also the fact that Santorum is as much loathed as liked in that strange strange state.

Gingrich’s last hope, insofar as he had any at all, was that the conservatives who had backed Santorum would swing behind him. Whether he really believed that or not remains a mystery — as does much about Gingrich. Santorum’s supporters never saw this gaseous, gluttonous man-bear, who has spent the past 15 years living off corporate lobbying and influence-peddling, as even remotely like the folksy down-home appeal of Santorum (who was himself a champion big government earmarker).

Gingrich himself remained wreathed in fantasy, as he had all his life. An “army brat” who spent some childhood years in Germany, he said that he had been thinking about the problems and possibilities of America since 1958 — when he was 12. Really, there’s nothing unusual about that — he was clearly a smart kid, out of place in a foreign country, hyper-identifying with his own tradition, in the midst of the Cold War.

What made it weird was the repeated reference to such throughout the campaign, as if the Gingrich 2012 push was the historical culmination of which that 1958 moment had been the spark. It was of a piece with his announcement that he would not only get back to the moon, but would start a base there to get to Mars. Cheers for all that and then, he triumphantly announced, “once the base has 17,000 people it can apply for statehood”.

He lost them on that, a crowd willing to follow the notion of American exceptionalism almost anywhere? Why? Because American exceptionalism is a fantasy, and its integrity is only preserved by carefully shielding it from reality testing. To believe that America is the last, best hope of man as a piece of idle chatter is one thing — to take that at its word, and believe that the universe should be colonised by that expression of human existence.

But Newt was a true believer, not merely in America, but in a Promethean idea of humanity that sits ill with the implicit notions of limits buried within American republicanism, originating from the Revolution. Gingrich had been as much a part of he ’60s wave as anyone — as a professor in Georgia he had started one of the world’s first environmental studies courses, and he was friends with the Marxisant futurist Alvin Toffler.Like Toffler, he believed in the successive and total transformation of humanity. Unlike Toffler he believed — or said he did — that private enterprise would be the driver of all such transformation (he was still rabbiting on about private sector funding the Martian venture to the end). But to many his relentless schemes looked like a commitment to big government that they purport to despise.

The money did for him in the end — his backer, the Vegas hyper-Zionist property developer Sheldon Adelson  deserted him (at least he no longer had to all for the US Israeli embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, in stump speeches in Buttkiss Idaho, etc). But so too did his erraticism, his campaign weaving across the country to coincide with a college reunion, his GOP wifebot Callista’s children’s book tour, and ending with him being bitten by a penguin at the St Louis zoo.

He was a strong debater and speechifyer — when he wasn’t run down, as he frequently was — and endlessly entertaining. He represented the American Right in its pure fantasy state. Whether his active involvement in the campaign will prove a plus or a minus remains to be seen. A rat done bit soul-sister Mitt and Newtie’s on the moon. We have not seen the last of his unbearable lightness of being, and the illumination of his serial explosions.