The latest national poll of Republican voters from Fox News, released today, shows Mitt Romney leading with 38%, Rick Santorum a respectable second with 32%, and Newt Gingrich a distant third with a mere 13% (virtually tied with Ron Paul, who has 12% support). Gingrich’s anemic level of support combined with his losses yesterday in both of the Deep South primaries in Alabama and Mississippi that his campaign spokesman said last week he’d have to win to remain viable have people asking why Gingrich is staying in the race.
Here’s why. Gingrich has two objectives: (1) secure the presidential nomination, or at least the vice presidential nomination, if possible; and (2) deprive Romney of the nomination. Gingrich has figured out that he cannot achieve either objective by dropping out of the race.
Gingrich dropping out of the race would not be likely to result in Santorum defeating Romney mano a mano. According to the same poll discussed above, if Gingrich were to drop out of the race, his 13% share of the vote would be split up with 7% going to Santorum, 5% going to Romney, and 1% going to Paul, meaning Romney would maintain his lead over Santorum by approximately the same margin. Romney already has an outright majority of the delegates allocated to date, and if he were to continue to win delegates at the rate he has been winning them to date, he would end up with an outright majority of delegates before the convention.
So, despite the arguments by Santorum to the contrary, Gingrich dropping out of the race would not accomplish his objective of depriving Romney of the nomination. But there’s an even more enticing reason for Gingrich to remain in the race: It gives him his only chance of getting on the ticket.
If Gingrich were to drop out, the chances would be high that either Romney or Santorum would win a majority of the delegates prior to the convention. Obviously if Romney were to secure that majority, Gingrich would be left out in the cold with no realistic expectation of anything but the possibility of giving a (carefully edited) speech at the convention. Even if Santorum pulled a surprise victory, Gingrich would not have any leverage to capitalize on it even though Santorum’s victory would be in large part due to Gingrich having dropped out.
By staying in the race, Gingrich maximizes the odds of a brokered convention at which his leverage also would be maximized. He is betting that Romney would not be able to gain the additional votes at the convention needed to secure the nomination, which would give Gingrich an opportunity to secure a place on the ticket by pledging his delegates to Santorum. In other words, staying in the race maximizes Gingrich’s chances of realizing at least one, and maybe both, of his objectives.
Gingrich and his campaign have admitted that this is their game plan:
Mr. Gingrich and his campaign have embraced a new goal, which is to block Mr. Romney. “He believes the long haul is to get enough delegates to stop Romney from getting the nomination before the convention,” said campaign chairman Bob Walker, a former congressman. “If Romney is stopped, I don’t think he gets the nomination at the convention.”
Keep in mind that everything I just wrote is Gingrich’s analysis and strategy. I didn’t say I thought it would work.
Personally, I believe that Romney is on track to win an outright majority of delegates prior to the convention whether or not Gingrich drops out of the race. Contrary to the narrative in the establishment “news” media that Romney keeps “losing” elections, he actually has won more contests and more delegates than the other three candidates combined. On Saturday, when Santorum won accolades for winning Kansas (where Romney didn’t campaign), Romney won more delegates than Santorum overall. Yesterday, when Santorum won accolades for winning Alabama and Mississippi, Romney won more delegates than Santorum overall. If Gingrich had dropped out, Romney still would have won more delegates than Santorum. Barring some major unexpected development, Romney does appear to me to be the inevitable nominee.
That said, Romney securing the nomination through a series of plurality wins bodes poorly for the Republicans in the general election because Romney will have to focus on unifying the party while Obama will have his party unified behind him already. This was a major problem for John McCain in 2008: He won the nomination by winning pluralities in enough early states to force the other candidates out of the race – but he never had (or deserved) support from the majority of the Republican base. Most Republicans voted for McCain as a vote against Barack Obama, or they didn’t vote at all.
Although Romney is showing the Republican base a lot more respect than McCain did or ever has, he continues not to be able to secure support from a majority of Republican voters. It appears that his only chance to do so will be after he secures the nomination, at which time it is going to be absolutely crucial for Romney to continue to run as a principled conservative in order to solidify the party behind him and have a united front to take on Obama.
Nevertheless, I am encouraged by Romney’s scrappiness. Although he is winning with pluralities, he is winning. And as much as Gingrich and Santorum whine incessantly about Romney outspending them, the fact of the matter is that the eventual nominee is going to face a one billion dollar Obama campaign juggernaut. It is encouraging to know that we have a candidate who appears ready and able to meet that challenge and give as good as he gets.