Though I am a Rick Santorum supporter, I’ve always had a good deal of sympathy for Newt Gingrich.
He was the leading conservative rabble-rouser of this generation. A brilliant political strategist with the boldness to make things happen, Gingrich dared to dream and think on a level that caused the permanent GOP minority caucus managers to hyperventilate.
Two years after then-registered independent Mitt Romney cast a ballot in the 1992 Democratic Presidential Primary, Gingrich played the lead role in the Republican capture of the US House of Representatives, ending an exile that extended back to the Eisenhower Administration.
The historian had written himself into the history books.
When the LSU political science department offered his class on videotape during intersession, I took it.
To see Gingrich’s GOP cred savaged by a Romney-aligned Super PAC is the apogee of hypocrisy and while the former speaker has certainly stepped in plenty of political dog doo-doo through recklessness over the years, he did not deserve the treatment he suffered in Iowa and Florida from Romney partisans.
Gingrich missed a golden opportunity to face off against Romney sans Santorum in Virginia but did not make the ballot. A win in Virginia on Super Tuesday would have helped him make a stronger case in Alabama and Mississippi, states where Gingrich was competitive.
It would have been Gingrich’s best chance to rewrite the narrative of GOP delegate scramble. Instead, the pair of Deep South states proved to be the last gasp of the Gingrich campaign.
Perhaps Team Gingrich spent too much time dwelling on the debate circuit and not the pesky minutiae of a national campaign. Attention to details is how Barack Obama outmaneuvered Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
The effect of Santorum’s surprise wins in Mississippi and Alabama doomed whatever chance he had at winning Louisiana, where his daughter Jackie was born and where he attended grad school (Tulane).
And with Santorum running up the score in Louisiana (48%), Gingrich’s path to the nomination isn’t murky; it’s non-existent.
Gingrich has nowhere else to go until May and a late rally isn’t in the cards.
Right now the race for the Republican nomination is at a crossroads: Romney has an overwhelming financial, establishment and organizational advantage though he has not been able to seal the deal in a convincing way while Santorum is trying to stand athwart of the Romney inevitability argument yelling “stop!”.
Santorum’s challenge is that much tougher since beyond Romney’s operational superiority the Pennsylvanian also has to compete against the “conservative spread”, that being the satchel of conservative votes that has represented a margin of victory denied to Santorum in several key states.
At this point, Gingrich can either choose to exit from the primaries and caucuses on his own volition or endure the embarrassment of being marginalized into insignificance, a path he is already well down judging by his crash in Louisiana and his single-digit poll numbers in Wisconsin.
Newt the historian ought (who not long ago compared Romney to 1920 GOP early frontrunner Leonard Wood) to know that 2012 is the polar opposite of 1980.
That year the conservative vote had largely coalesced around Ronald Reagan’s candidacy (who had quickly disposed of his challengers for the mantle of the Right) while the moderate establishment vote was cut four ways (George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Howard Baker and John Anderson).
It was because of the divided moderate vote that Reagan pulled an upset in the not-so conservative state of Vermont.
It might be too late for a Gingrich withdrawal and endorsement to stop Romney’s slog to Tampa Bay though the former speaker’s continued presence in the race practically guarantees the Massachusetts moderate’s nomination.
It’s time for Newt to recognize reality and come to terms that this election is not about him.
Back in January this Santorum supporter argued that a vote cast in the Florida primary for Santorum was in effect a vote for Romney. Rick had practically pulled out of the Sunshine State and had no chance to succeed there while Gingrich was investing heavily in Florida.
Now that we are on the winner-take-all section of the primary calendar, a conservative vote for anyone but Santorum is in effect a vote for Romney.
If Gingrich will not take himself out of the race, then it is up to Gingrich supporters to do the job for him abandoning his sinking ship by backing Santorum.