Mitt Romney is the candidate of the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and the Mormon West. Rick Santorum is the candidate of the Plains states and both the upper and lower South. Newt Gingrich is the candidate of—well, not much.
Yesterday’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, the white South’s dankest backwaters, produced clear victories for Santorum and ended Gingrich’s already-modest hope that he could at least be the candidate of a region. Barring some upheaval, it’s hard to see where Gingrich could win another state. Last week, he ran fourth—behind Ron Paul, dead last—in five of the ten states holding Super Tuesday contests. Like most of the states still to vote, those five were all outside the South. If Gingrich stays in the race, he’ll likely be dueling with Paul for the distinction of coming in next to last.
Before this week, by staying in the race, Gingrich deprived Santorum of key victories—in Michigan and Ohio, surely—by splitting the ultra-conservative vote. Yesterday, in two of the most reactionary states in the country, Santorum was able to win anyway. There are enough right-wingers in Mississippi and Alabama for Santorum and Gingrich to divide the vote and still have Santorum come in first. But Santorum can’t count on such happy endings as the primary season progresses, though Gingrich’s vote is likely to shrink as the weeks wear on. The contest that Santorum would really like Gingrich to be gone for is Texas (which has scheduled its primary for May 29), the one mega-state that he has a chance to win and that gives all its delegates to the statewide plurality vote winner.
But Gingrich shows no inclination of going. It’s not clear that by staying in the field he makes it harder for Romney to win a majority of the delegates by the time the convention starts: The delegates that he’ll amass in upcoming contests would likely go to Santorum if he left the field. Nor is it clear what his leverage would be going into a convention in which Romney didn’t have a majority of the delegates in hand. The Mittster is no more likely to pick the Newtster as his vice-presidential running mate than he is to pick Khalid Sheik Mohammad. Santorum is in an incomparably stronger position to angle for Mitt’s No. 2 than Gingrich is.
One thing is certain: Delegates in even a brokered convention are hardly likely to surge Newt’s way. Gingrich is as unpopular with the party elites as he is with the party’s rank and file, not to mention the general public. He is rejected by mass and elite in equal measure. A lesser, or saner, man would discreetly fold his tent. Full up with delusions of grandeur, Gingrich soldiers on.