In a fast-paced, wide-ranging and, at times, hilariously odd interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball Thursday night, former GOP presidential forgave Mitt Romney for any harsh words traded on the campaign trail.

Mitt Romney did what he had to do to become the nominee, Gingrich said. He's worked at this six years ... When he got to the crunch, he was tough enough and smart enough to beat me in Florida, said Gingrich, who endorsed Romney for president earlier this month.

The former House Speaker also downplayed previous attacks he's made against Romney concerning his record at Bain, a strategy recently adopted by President Obama that has taken center stage in the election. Gingrich said he doesn't think Obama's attacks on his Republican rival's tenure at the private equity firm would work.

Here's the problem they've got, he said of Obama's re-election campaign. It didn't work. I wouldn't have won it on that issue. It doesn't work in general.

As for a slot at the Republican National Convention, Gingrich said he'll get whatever Romney thinks will help him win ... I'm a team player.

What made the interview must-see TV, however, was how Gingrich was, well, so classically Newt; confident, unapologetic, bombastic and full of references to history -- and zoos. Watching him and Matthews go back and forth was like watching two oddball uncles at a family reunion.

One of the highlights of the interview was watching how Gingrich's face lit up as soon as Mathews brought up animals. The former House Speaker is passionate about zoos and made an effort to visit as many as he could on the campaign trail.

Gingrich said his favorite zoo was the San Diego Zoo and his favorite animal to watch was elephants.

But Gingrich has a particular soft spot for reptiles. His favorite snake is the python. Big and passive ... they're very successful, Gingrich said.

Another memorable moment: when Matthews asked Gingrich what the deal was with birthers, or those who believe that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, Gingrich simply responded, beats me.

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