Gingrich's Endgame

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pauses during a campaign stop at the Tulare World Ag Expo Tuesday, February 14, 2012, in Tulare, California.

Here’s the problem with Newt Gingrich’s campaign for president:

We know what Ron Paul’s supporters look like (young, genial) and believe (they’re loony). We know that Rick Santorum’s supporters are downscale and devout. We know that Mitt Romney’s supporters are upscale—indeed, the more upscale the Republican, by evidence of the exit polls, the more likely he or she is to be resigned to Mitt. Above all, they want to win, though they’re having growing doubts that they picked the right horse. And Newt’s supporters  …

Well, what about Newt’s supporters? What niche do they occupy? What do they believe? It’s hard to say, because Newt himself is nicheless, and his transcendent cause is himself. His sub-transcendent cause is ruining Mitt Romney, but if primary voters share that particular passion, they can always vote for Santorum.

As Santorum emerges as the stronger alternative to Romney, Gingrich is in danger of falling off the map. He is not campaigning in Michigan, which is emerging as a two-candidate race. On Super Tuesday, he must at least win what so far is his base—the South. Oklahoma, Tennessee and Georgia, his home state, all have primaries on March 6, and he needs to sweep them all. He also needs to finish at least a strong third, or in the top two, in Ohio, another March 6 state—and if he loses in one of the Southern states, he needs to be at least a strong second in Ohio to keep going. If Santorum runs a strong second in Ohio, or wins it, and also wins two of the Southern states, the Newtster will probably have to leave the race.

But there’s another possibility: Santorum does well in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich wins the South, and the race settles down to a three-way regional race, with Santorum the candidate of the Rust Belt, Newt of Dixie, and Romney of the Northeast and, maybe, the Pacific Coast. That assumes everyone has enough money to keep going, but thanks to our Supreme Court, there may well be enough Super PAC money to go around.

So the best Gingrich could do would be to arrive in Tampa with enough delegates to force a brokered convention. But there’s no way he could be the beneficiary of any brokering: He’s not going on the ticket, he’s not getting any platform concessions (To the moon, Alice?), the most he’ll get is a prime-time speech. Even if the GOP bests Obama, what president in his right mind would put Newt in his cabinet?

Newt’s future? On his good days, he can be the GOP’s elder statesman. On his other days, he’s its crazy uncle. 

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