By A.B. Stoddard - 02/01/12 10:51 PM EST
Championing subsidized kosher meals and a U.S. colony on the moon didn’t exactly vault Newt Gingrich to victory over Mitt Romney in the Sunshine State this week. As his candidacy self-destructed for a third time, turning a 12-point win in South Carolina to a 14-point loss in Florida in just 10 days, the relentless warrior promised a priceless gift to officials at the Democratic National Committee. He plans to contest every coming election, win them and be the nominee in Tampa this August.
The former Speaker isn’t likely to pull that off, but Republicans are fuming over the potentially irreparable harm Gingrich will surely wreak along the way. After his attack on Romney’s record at Bain Capitol infuriated free-market conservatives, he has taken to characterizing Romney as a “pro-abortion Massachusetts liberal” who is “buying the election” with the help of his Goldman Sachs friends. Romney, who refuses to risk one more rise from the ashes by the Phoe-Newt, can’t stop firing as long as Gingrich hangs on. The more Romney attacks, the more support he loses from the independent voters he, or any nominee, will need to defeat President Obama.
As his staff left him in June because he refused to cancel a Greek isle cruise, Gingrich declared his plans to run a different kind of campaign. But as he sold books, screened movies and posted on Facebook, he only proved true all the old rules he so defiantly decried: that fundraising matters, that ads often matter more than cable news interviews and that campaign organization matters. No one who has worked closely with Gingrich wants him to employ his campaign operating plan as a means to contain Iran’s nuclear capability. Why would the voters?
In the month of February, when there are contests that favor not only Romney but Rick Santorum and Ron Paul as well, Gingrich will likely lack the opportunities — with only one debate scheduled and dwindling resources — to slow Romney down. To turn the tide, he must change the minds of conservatives currently supporting Santorum, Paul or Romney.
Gingrich has urged Santorum to get out, and wrongly predicted his vote share in Florida, combined with Santorum’s, would exceed Romney’s. That number fell short, making Romney the winner even if Santorum’s votes had gone to Gingrich. The latest NBC/Marist poll indeed shows that Santorum’s support would go to Romney, not Gingrich, if he the former Pennsylvania senator quits. That means if Gingrich were to leave the race, Santorum would be more formidable against Romney than Gingrich is.
Tea Party heroes including Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) never got behind Gingrich, nor did evangelical leaders such as Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. With any more earth-scorching, they might even join the establishment in calling for Gingrich’s defeat — should it appear that Gingrich’s desire to beat Romney is stronger than his desire to beat Obama.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.