So much for a last stand. Newt Gingrich, who banked everything left in his shell of a presidential campaign on pulling off an upset victory in Delaware last night, failed utterly. With 27 percent of the vote, he garnered less than half of Mitt Romney’s Delaware vote share last night.
Where does Newt go from here? On Wednesday, Gingrich hinted that he would turn his back on his pledge to campaign all the way through the Tampa convention. "You have to at some point be honest about what’s happening in the real world as opposed to what you would like to have happened," Gingrich said at a campaign stop this morning. It's hard to see any other path forward. Besides his surprise victory in South Carolina, Gingrich has only placed first in his home state of Georgia. At the same time, his campaign has been whittling away money with few new donations, putting the Gingrich campaign over $4 million in debt, according to finance disclosures filed with the Federal Elections Commission last week. Winning Our Future, the Gingrich-affiliated super PAC, still had $6 million floating around at the end of March, but its primary donor, billionaire Sheldon Adelson has moved on to other ventures.
The results from Delaware did not really matter all that much. Romney has racked up enough of a delegate advantage that, even with a win there, it would have been impossible for Gingrich to catch up. From the onset, Gingrich’s campaign never looked all that serious. Until his surge last fall, he was running a glorified nostalgia tour, one designed to bring him back before the public spotlight for publicity and the benefit of future speaking fees—until he stumbled into being taken as a serious candidate by Republican voters. Now, whether or not Gingrich drags himself through to Tampa, his campaign is finished.
Even for the most committed progressive, there was a refreshing appeal to Gingrich’s campaign. In a world of over-managed candidates who vet their every utterance with a campaign consultant, the former House Speaker was brazenly honest, if mercurial. He would offer whatever platitude came to mind at a moment, and was given to whims (remember his pledge to build a moon colony?). While reporters have spent the past year trying to discern who the real Romney is, there was never any doubt who Gingrich was: a jovial politician who fancied himself a big ideas man.
On the other hand, good riddance. For all the whimsy and entertainment value, Gingrich traded in the vilest elements of right-wing hate. He never passed up an opportunity for a racial dog whistle, calling Obama the “food stamp” president and criticizing the president for addressing the controversy over Trayvon Martin’s death. Gingrich advocated for repealing child-labor laws and pushed a flat tax plan that makes Romney’s conservative proposals look progressive. He ramped up the rhetoric at every possible opportunity, not just maligning the Democrats’ plans but their very Americanness. He said that a second term for Barack Obama would have near-apocalyptic effects for the country.
A presidential campaign typically serves to bolster a politician's image and place in their party. Rick Santorum undoubtedly walked away a winner from this year’s contest. He’s no longer just the senator who lost his re-election by double digits; now he’s a standard bearer for staunch social conservatives. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, despite their fumbles, also exited the race with higher public profiles. But Gingrich’s standing has plummeted. An already well-known figure, Gingrich had a comfy spot as a talking head on Fox News and a career on the conservative speaking circuit. Now, even most Republicans treat him as a joke—a politician whose ideas should be sent to the moon rather than applied here on earth. His companies have taken a financial hit and he alienated his old employer Fox News, making it unlikely that he’ll be invited back as a paid contributor anytime soon. He's burnt the few remaining bridges he had left. Gingrich will still pop up at the occasional conservative conference or two, but the days when he could pantomime a spot as a party leader are long gone.