Gingrich Likely to Fight on After Florida Debacle

An epic collapse in Florida should spell the end of Newt Gingrich's presidential run. It won't.

The collapse of Newt Gingrich’s lead in the Florida polls seems to point to an epic win for Mitt Romney in tomorrow’s primary and the beginning of a coronation for the longtime frontrunner. But John Heilemann argues persuasively that Gingrich is likely to remain in the race to the bitter end.

On the Sunday shows, Gingrich repeatedly called Romney a liar and decried his rival’s “carpet-bombing” of him with negative ads. But outside the church, Gingrich went further, calling Romney a “pro-abortion, pro-gun-control, pro-tax-increase moderate from Massachusetts” who has been using “money from Wall Street” to spread his pernicious lies. Gingrich called this “as big an outrage I’ve had in my career.” He predicted that Romney would be unable to secure the requisite number of delegates to claim his party’s nomination. “When you add the two conservatives together,” Gingrich argued, referring to himself and Rick Santorum, “we clearly beat Romney.” The challenge for Gingrich would be to convert the anti-Willard majority into a pro-Newt one, he said, which he vowed to spend the coming months doing in a “straight-out contest” that would go on all the way until the GOP convention.

[…]

Pledges to continue the fight unabated in the face of harsh and/or humiliating outcomes are staples of presidential campaigns. And they are also patently meaningless. (Please recall Jon Huntsman’s feigned brio on the night of the New Hampshire primary — and his departure from the race a few days later.) But in Gingrich’s case, he might be serious, so much has he come to despise Romney and the Republican Establishment that has brought down on him a twenty-ton shithammer in Florida, and so convinced is he of his own Churchillian greatness and world-historical destiny. The same antic, manic, lunatic bloody-mindedness that has made him such a rotten candidate in the Sunshine State may be enough to keep him the race a good long time.

Waging a protracted battle would likely be an act of futility for Gingrich, but it could turn out to be something much worse for Romney. That is why it’s so important for the latter not just to win on Tuesday but to win big — very big.

Even aside from Gingrich’s pettiness and self-importance, he’s potentially right that he’s got a shot at winning over conservative voters if Rick Santorum will just drop out. Which, given the likelihood of a distant third-place finish in yet another contest and the pressing health issues of his little girl, one presumes is forthcoming.

Thus far, I believe Gingrich’s scorched earth tactics have actually benefited Romney. They’ve forced him to get his tax returns out and start working on an effective communications strategy for addressing the Bain Question. Additionally, he’s been forced to actually debate and otherwise engage in the campaign rather than running out the clock. These should serve him well in the fall campaign against the Obama machine.

In 2008, Romney, unlike Mike Huckabee then and Gingrich now, showed the good sense and decency to drop out of the race early once it was clear that John McCain would win the nomination. Nothing in Gingrich’s long career points to a propensity for either good sense or decency. Having been besieged in recent weeks by endorsements of his opponent and rather scathing assessments of himself by the Establishment,  he’s unlikely to heed calls to act in the best interests of his party. Further, at 68, this is surely his last hurrah.

Gingrich will hang around as long as he keeps getting invited to debates and his billionaire backers keep sending in the checks.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    Gingrich’s collapse in Florida looks as epic as Romney’s collapse in South Carolina. And yet Romney didn’t quit.
    Being outspent 5-1, Gingrich quiting would just be yet another example that elections can be and are bought.
    And finally, with a most certain win in Florida, Romney will have 83 delegates, Gingrich will have 28. So obviously it’s over since Gingrich would then need an unsurmountable 1,116 more delegates to clinch the nomination, and Romney would just need a mere 1,061.

  2. Newt Gingrich’s fate isn’t in his own hands and it isn’t necessarily in the hands of the voters. It’s in the hands of Sheldon Adelson. If Adelson decides its not worth throwing more of his millions to the pro-Gingrich SuperPAC Winning Our Future, then that 12,000,000 spending difference (just on ads) in Florida that I wrote about this morning will become an even wider gap and GIngrich won’t have the resources to compete.

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    Thus far, I believe Gingrich’s scorched earth tactics have actually benefited Romney.

    To the extent that any campaign makes a candidate stronger this is obviously true but the notion that Romney’s release of one year’s tax returns and he’s working on a Bain strategy hardly removes these issues from the table. Who doesn’t know that Romney earns over 20 million a year and pays less tax on it than a schoolteacher? The shift in his unfavorables indicates clearly the public is forming a picture of who Romney is and I’m not sure how a continued refusal to provide any more tax info and a more detailed examination of his Bain history is going to change that initial impression. I heard it being talked about when I took my dog to the vets a few days ago. As for Newt, yes he’s self important (part of the job spec for politicians surely) sleazeball but clearly a large segment of the GOP base like him and if he can still find funding he’s likely as you say to stay in the race. His motives may well be driven by the fact he’s been trashed by folks like yourself but it can’t be entirely discounted that he’s securing his credentials with that large segment of Republican voters who with varying degrees of intensity simply don’t want Romney.

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Thus reinforcing the narrative with disgruntled Newtites that Romney bought the election?

  5. Fiona says:

    I suspect that Newt will stick around until his money runs out. He’s probably got a decent chance to rack up some delegates in Southern states, especially if Santorum drops out. Between hubris, resentment, and bile, he’s also got plenty of fuel to keep him going in the long battle against Romney.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    …his billionaire backers keep sending in the checks.

    Hey, there’s nothing wrong with “free speech”…

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Apparently Citizens United isn’t supposed to cover Newt.

  8. mike says:

    Of course he won’t quit. Why would he? He gets free money to spew his tired, worn out, hypocritical thoughts. Besides, you never know, wife #4 might be out there and he can do some more cheating before he dumps the current one – all the while lecture everyone on family values and how he represents conversvatives. But by golly, he pays taxes at a higher rate than that Romney. As if paying a higher tax rate is suddenly a noble thing for republicans.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party: @mike: I’m not arguing that it’s somehow unfair that one couple is keeping his candidacy afloat by their lonesome; rather, I’m suggesting that they could make staying in the race much less appealing by turning off the spigots.

  10. David M says:

    With so few delegates awarded, there’s no reason not to stick around through February. Same goes for Santorum, provided both of them are OK helping Romney win rather than each other.

  11. Hey Norm says:

    Nate Silver…who is uncannily accurate in his predictions…has Romney up by 13 points…44.1% to 31.1%. Not a lot after outspending Newt 5-1. If Santorum quits and Gingrich picks up his 14.4%…they’re even in spite of the $12,000,000 Romney spent. That might keep me in the race if I was Newt…I mean Adelson.

  12. PJ says:

    If Silver is right and the margin ends up to be 13 points, then compared to Gingrich winning by 12.6 points in South Carolina this really will be an epic win.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    Even aside from Gingrich’s pettiness and self-importance, he’s potentially right that he’s got a shot at winning over conservative voters if Rick Santorum will just drop out.

    Maybe, maybe not. Yesterday’s Marist poll suggests no advantage at least in Florida:

    With Santorum:
    Romney: 40%
    Gingrich: 25%
    Santorum: 18%

    Without Santorum:
    Romney 49%
    Gingrich 33%

    Of course, that’s just Florida, but if Gingrich is so unacceptable to former Santorum voters that they’ll split their votes fairly evenly, the reason for an extended Gingrich campaign disapears.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    The repub constituency that has coalesced around Mr Gingrich’s candidacy doesn’t seem likely to abandon their interest in the campaign. Is Prof Joyner suggesting that they be left without a candidate?! I quite frankly think they’re a bunch of complete nutcases but do believe they have a part to sing in the American chorus.

  15. Brummagem Joe says:

    @PD Shaw:

    The problem with this assuming it’s correct is that it’s taking place against a background of 5 to 1 advertising in a large state where this is more important than in places like SC or IA.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    Thus far, I believe Gingrich’s scorched earth tactics have actually benefited Romney.

    You’re whistling past the graveyard. Romney’s sufficiently unknown (to himself as well, obviously) that he can be defined. Newt is defining him. He’s doing it in Florida – which is very helpful – but nationally as well.

    Consider what the voter now “knows” about Romney:

    1) Flip flopper extraordinaire
    2) Super rich guy with Swiss bank accounts.
    3) Supported the core idea in the ACA
    4) Mormon.
    5) Can’t seem to get much more than a third of his own party despite running against frauds, loons, and the winner of the prize for Most Repulsive Politician.

    Is that how you were hoping your guy would be perceived in soon-to-be February?

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    @michael reynolds: “You’re whistling past the graveyard. Romney’s sufficiently unknown (to himself as well, obviously) that he can be defined. Newt is defining him.”

    He is indeed. And Obama has hardly raised a finger yet. On another thread there’s a lot of laughter about Republican’s traditional strategy of demonising opponents but in Romney the GOP has given a huge hostage to fortune in this respect. Which of these caricatures is likely to have more resonance?

    Obama = Barack X

    Romney = Gordon Gekko

    Which has more than a grain of truth?

  18. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: @Brummagem Joe: But all this was simply going to come out. It was there in 2004, too, but didn’t really dent the national discussion because McCain quickly ran away with the nomination.

    My point is that, by the summer, much of this will be Old News and Romney will have been forced to come up with a good answer to the critique. That’s better than having Obama do it to him when the voters are paying attention.

    I still think Obama’s the favorite to win in November. That’s been my position since, oh, January 2009. But Romney’s the best chance the Republicans had this cycle to win and he’s a stronger candidate now than he was a month ago.

  19. john personna says:

    An epic loss for Gingrich would do much to redeem the GOP in the eyes of moderates and independents.

    I extrapolate, of course …

  20. john personna says:

    BTW, Santorum is going to wait around to see if the horse can sing.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    The question I would have is whether Romney will even get a listen in the general. He may have improved as a debater, but he’s damaged as a candidate. When he could be “not Obama” he was doing well. Now he has to be Romney.

    Yes, a lot of this would have come out in the general — Obama’s team knows how to rough up an opponent. But having Romney pre-defined means Obama can now carry the narrative into the next stages, and also perhaps run a more positive campaign of his own. If Romney’s negatives are upside down come August or September or so, Romney’s left with no choice but the dark side, while Obama can run positive.

  22. Jr says:

    How is this really an epic collapse for Gingrich?

    Gingrich debate performance was hardily the back-breaker, being out spent 5-1 was.

  23. PD Shaw says:

    If only Citizens United had gone the other way, Gingrich would be seen by all as the flowering epitome of a high-minded statesman, a saver of civilizations and the man every man (and woman) want to drink a beer with, nay want to sleep with.

    Yet somehow all these Benjamins make Gingrich seem like an egotistical, manipulative @$$h0lE. Damn you Citizens United!!!

  24. @mike:

    Of course he won’t quit. Why would he?

    To avoid cutting off his nose to spite his face. He’s not going to win the nomination. All he’s doing now is making sure that instead of a post election narrative of “Republicans would have won, except they chose moderate Romney over converservative Newt”, he’s making sure it’s going to be “Republican would have won, accept egomaniac Newt made Romney unelectable”.

    Instead of being in position to be a leader of the party during Obama’s second term, he’s liable to end up persona non grata.

  25. mike says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Newt doesn’t care about the party or the country – he cares about Newt. If he cared about other people then he would not have done what he did in his personal life, taken the money from Fannie May, committed the ethical violations (yes, I know they dropped all but one but go back and read to determine if he really did them), caused a gov’t shut down. Darn right he would cut off his nose to spite his face – he’s Newt – his ego is to big even for the white house.

  26. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Don’t worry, just rehearse the words “Newt Gingrich was not a real conservative, whereas insert-name-here is, and deserves all our support.”

  27. Fiona says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Instead of being in position to be a leader of the party during Obama’s second term, he’s liable to end up persona non grata.

    A leader of the party? Even if Newt bowed out now and publicly kissed Romney’s ass, he’s not going to have any power within the party. He’ll be like Palin, if he’s lucky–trotted out by Faux News to offer political “analysis” (i.e. bash liberals) and to sell his books and videos. In other words, if he doesn’t totally piss of the powers that be, he can be still part of the Republican side show.

  28. mike says:

    @john personna: maybe he was once a real conservative (what is that?) but people change. What is a real conservative? How has Newt lived his own life as a conservative or is it a do as I say and not as I do? I personally could care less what people do in their own life – but I find it difficult to respect someone who tells me how I should or shouldn’t act and then do the exact thing he said i shouldn’t do.

  29. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner: ” That’s better than having Obama do it to him when the voters are paying attention.”

    I think the point Michael and I are making is that actually they’re paying some attention now given the rather ugly turn that the GOP nominating process has taken. And I concurred with your opinion about strengthening Romney’s campaigning mode. Personally as of right now he’s essentially been pigeonholed by much of the electorate and Obama hasn’t lifted a finger. And if Newt sticks with it then it will just get worse. I’m the first to recognise your realism about the likely outcome in November but I rather think your underestimating the potential drag that Romney’s background poses. A hell of a lot of Republican support comes from blue collar folks over social issues if this once starts getting trumped by issues of economic unfairness then it could be the source of a debacle not just for Romney but for the wider Republican brand. For example are Republicans going to be talking credibly about elitism with Romney as a candidate?

  30. sam says:

    The Newtmobile runs on a high-octane combination of resentment and venom and is the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine we’ll ever see.

  31. Scott F. says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    And I concurred with your opinion about strengthening Romney’s campaigning mode. Personally as of right now he’s essentially been pigeonholed by much of the electorate and Obama hasn’t lifted a finger. And if Newt sticks with it then it will just get worse.

    I agree Romney’s being defined for more of the electorate than just Republicans by the attention being given to GOP primaries. And, he’s being defined in a way that will hurt him more that improved campaigning chops will help him. (His Unfavorable number is way up in polls of the general populace.) But there’s more… Obama’s campaign, or more likely a supportive super-PAC, now has miles of footage of Republicans claiming Romney represents all that is wrong with capitalism. That’s “bipartisan” condemnation that’s going to stick.

  32. Jr says:

    Romney has already been defined without Obama having to do much. His favorbilities are already near the level of Newt, which says a lot. Newt is pretty much broke and was able to hit Romney enough to make him toxic among independent voters, what do you think Obama and his war chest are going to do?

    Unless the economy goes under due to the Europe, Obama is going to kick Romney’s ass and it is going to be delightful to watch……couldn’t happen to a better guy.

  33. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Scott F.:

    now has miles of footage of Republicans claiming Romney represents all that is wrong with capitalism. That’s “bipartisan” condemnation that’s going to stick.

    I agree. During the Clinton/Obama contest they were careful to keep it civil and when anyone threatened that (Bill) they were rapidly hustled off the stage. Every night for weeks now the news has been led by the Republican nomination fight and the notion that the country at large doesn’t have a picture of Romney is a bit silly to be honest. The trove of material that is out there for Democrats both at the congressional level (eg. Ryan) and the national has more gold in it than Louis Armstrong’s teeth.

  34. anjin-san says:

    The really sad thing about Newt is that even having achieved fame, wealth, & power, even with the trophy wife on his arm – inside he is a sad, scared, angry little boy who is afraid he will get beaten up after school & who can’t figure out why none of the other kids like him.

    A very similar psychology to Richard Nixon.