You know that guy who comes over for the dinner party and then just will not leave? Everybody else goes home and he’s still there, talking about this hot girlfriend he had at camp one summer in high school. You drop hint after hint and he wonders if you have any more beer. You change into your pajamas and yawn in his face and he takes off his shoes and socks. There is no hint that he can be persuaded to take. You know that guy, and so do Republican voters.
Even in the Deep South, Newt Gingrich keeps gimping home in last place. It’s more than clear to anyone paying even a little attention that he is not regarded as viable by Republican voters, but even after 27 losses in his last 28 tries, he refuses to bow out.
I’ve been thinking about why Newt won’t quit for a couple of weeks now and I think there are three possibilites.
- Ego: He can’t stand the thought of not being in the spotlight.
- Optimism: He honestly thinks he can win.
- He is winning: Just not at the game we think he’s playing.
Gingrich is clearly enticed by the prospect — however slim — that the race won’t get decided until the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., at the end of August, and by the prominent role that he might get to play there. By staying in, Gingrich arguably makes it more difficult for Mitt Romney to pile up delegates, since party rules award delegates to losing candidates in many states. That, in turn, increases the chances that the convention might actually decide the nomination.
“I’m sure that, today, Newt is thinking he is going to go all the way to the convention,” said former Rep. Vin Weber, a leading Gingrich lieutenant during the Georgia congressman’s rise to power in the House during the 1980s and early 1990s. “He will, at least, reassess that thinking over the next week or two.”
Certainly a plausible theory. And theory #1 is more than plausible – Newt loves it when people pay attention to him. He’s about as bad as Jimmy James from News Radio, who once ran for president as a way to meet women. But I can’t shake off the idea that Newt is actually succeeding marvelously at his real goal. Here’s the thinking.
Even Newt is smart enough to know that he isn’t going to be the nominee this year. Further, he may even be smart enough to know that if he were, Obama would squash him. So his best shot at the White House is 2016 against somebody like Hillary. (Note: I’m only conjecturing as to what he thinks, and am in no way suggesting that I agree with the reasoning.) In this scenario, perhaps his best play isn’t for top of the ticket, but for the VP slot. That would give him a platform and some credibility, and if Mitt gets waxed it’s not Newt’s fault.
If a Mitt/Newt ticket did somehow win, well, heartbeat from the presidency and all that. If this happened, all Newt would have to do is decide whether to a) hope Mitt dies in office, b) help Mitt die in office, or c) bide his time, hope for two terms and then run himself in 2020.
Meanwhile, Mitt has a problem that Newt can help with. Romney is dull, clueless, out of touch and Mormon (two of the four are taken as negatives by GOP loyalists). Oh, and he’s not seen as conservative enough by the barking gongbat base. Somehow or another he can’t seem to put away a case as hopeless as Frothy the Zombie, who may be the weakest, least electable Republican still alive this deep into the process in decades. That alone should tell you something about Mitt’s prospects in November.
So Newt serves a purpose. Specifically, at this moment in the process, understand that every vote for Gingrich is a vote for Romney. Newt isn’t taking votes from Mitt. And if Newt weren’t peeling off some of the conservative votes Romney would be in deep, deep trouble. However, if Newt stays in, he minimizes the risk of a coup by the trailer park wing of the GOP and even if nobody arrives at the convention with enough delegates to secure the nomination outright, Newt’s votes put Mitt well over the top.
Let’s be clear about something: the country club wing of the party – the players, the moneyboys, the movers and the shakers and the real power behind the throne – want Romney. They might figure they can control Santorum, but Mitt doesn’t need controlling. He’s one of them. So Newt is damned useful. His snake-handling bona fides might be suspect, but he’s conservative enough to be a plus on a ticket aimed at unseating Obama, who, we should remember, is black.
Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist or anything, but I’m betting the design team has already completed work on several Romney/Gingrich 2012 campaign concepts.
Cartoon by Paul Szep.