10 June 2011

Newt-Run Bomb

Newt and Callista Gingrich   /Photo: Brian Matt

The implosion of the Newt Gingrich Presidential Campaign this week has been remarkable.  Sixteen senior staffers, including the Campaign Manager and Press Secretary, resigned en masse on Thursday.  Former Speaker Gingrich, who was off on a cruise to the Greek Islands with his wife Callista, indicated that he was not dropping out of the race despite the radical change in staff.  Newt's preliminary spin is that he is running an unconventional campaign and that the seasoned campaigners could not see the wisdom of a strong spouse.  But Gingrich will need more compelling responses on the ready for the CNN Presidential Debate in New Hampshire on Monday.

Many GOP partisans were skeptical about Gingrich’s chances to win the Republican nomination.  After all, Gingrich has not held elective office in 13 years, he has a complicated personal background  (three marriages with two messy divorces and now his conversion to Catholicism), Newt had alienated diehard conservatives with a campaign with now former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 6th) for Global Warming and Gingrich generally has a polarizing disposition. Still, it was thought that Gingrich would be valuable in framing primary issues and rejecting the accommodation inclinations of the Between The Beltway Republican establishment.

The launch of the Gingrich Campaign was not smooth sailing.  Newt chose to announce his intentions on May 11th via a Facebook video.  Alas, the sappy soundtrack scoring which accompanied the candidate’s preliminary pitch lent itself to mockery.  While doing the Sunday morning media rounds, Gingrich made news when position himself on budgetary issues by condemning Paul Ryan’s fledgling plans to bring solvency to Medicare and help balance the budget as “right wing social engineering”.  After letting that fester for a few days, Newt claims that he was taken out of context.  Be that as it may, an experienced politico who has been on Meet the Press 34 times should have been more careful when opining to the Lamestream Media’s gotcha game.  Smelling blood, the media dug up a story indicating that Gingrich had up to a $500,000 line of credit with Tiffany’s and linked it to potential lobbying by an ex Gingrich aide who worked for Tiffany's with Callista Gingrich, while Mrs. Gingrich worked on a relevant Congressional Committee.  Amidst the stormy campaign seas, the Gingrich’s took a two week cruise to the Aegean Sea.

Political junkies are trying to determine what is the rest of the story.  The campaign staff that jumped ship cited creative differences on how to direct the campaign. Since Gingrich’s Campaign Manager Rob Johnson, Spokesman Rick Tyler and Strategist David Carney all have ties to Texas Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), this may portent Perry throwing his hat into the 2012 Presidential contest.   There is scuttlebutt that Callista Gingrich’s close involvement with the campaign was not welcomed by the staff.  It may simply be a question about pay.

Gingrich has been adept at funding his post-Congressional professional pursuits with large scale donors.  It is dubious that he was doing well with garnering the an array of contributors that were limited to $2,400 a piece.  The staff is starving, the campaign is floundering and the boss is on a European Vacation might have been enough to abandon ship.

Mercifully, the 2012 Presidential Primary campaign has not been the grueling four year slog that it was in the last cycle.  While the Republicans have many hopefuls who have already jumped in, there may be more time for later entries.  But you have to be in it to win it.

Gingrich wants to have an idea oriented campaign. That would be welcomed by Tea Party types who want to find real answers.  However, Gingrich seems to want to be a part time candidate.  One would think that Fred Thompson’s lackluster performance for the 2008 cycle should have shown that unless you are Born Yesterday, there is No Way Out of the Necessary Roughness of a full time campaign.

Presidential politicking can be personally taxing (sic), but it can also be quite revealing of character.  The clumsily worded statements made after a long day on the hustings can be an opportunity for recovery or ruin.  The strategic choices that a campaign makes can also be quite telling.  Although the media would have observers believe that Barack Obama won the 2008 Democrat nomination in a landslide, it actually was pretty close in delegate/Super-delegate count.  The margin for victory was partly due to Obama’s dumping of resources in caucus states where Democrats had no chance of winning in the general election.  By mobilizing activities to do caucuses in states like Idaho, he won lopsided victories which meant more delegates and built a loyal following of believers of hope and change to use for national phone banks for the general.  That bond can not be done through wholesale politics in a war of ideas.

While Newt is down, he should not be counted out quite yet. In the 2004 Democrat Presidential Nomination Campaign, Senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) primary victory in 2004.  Kerry had initially relied on having top drawer endorsements from elected officials but was not winning the Super Delegate race and was having trouble fund-raising.  So much so that Senator Kerry, the man who married money twice, had to mortgage his Boston home for $6 million to stay in the race.

Now former Governor Howard Dean (D-VT) had won the “invisible primary” in 2004 by  pioneering internet fund-raising and had a warchest of $40 million earmarked just for Iowa.  Dean thought that he could influence Hawkeye caucus goers by sending an army of orange hat volunteers (mostly out of state college students) to knock on doors.  But despite the formidable war chest and the invading Dean Brigade, Dean ended up finishing in third place.

The poor performance of a supposed front-runner was bad enough but everyone remembers the Dean scream during the concession speech.  That prompted Democrat party activists to rally around an acceptable candidate.  Senator John Kerry was a three term Senator who had served in Vietnam (and was awarded three Purple Hearts) yet he based his campaign around voting against the war in Iraq.  In the end, Kerry won the nomination and chose his chief remaining rival first term Senator John Edwards (D-NC) as his running mate.

Another example of not giving up the fight and triumphing in Presidential politics is Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had great difficulty raising funds in the first half of  2007 as the Republican base was adverse to McCain’s Immigration legislation.  The McCain campaign had to downsize his campaign staff, he lost his campaign manager and chief strategist and he was fourth in the polls with 15%.  But McCain capitalized on his maverick status with the media, not competing in the Iowa Caucus where he would not win, and did intrepid campaigning in the Granite State.  Much to the consternation of the conservative base, McCain won the Republican nomination in 2008.

But in many ways, both of those paradigms were compromise candidates who won due to both pluck and luck.  If you are trying to educate the electorate and redefine the national agenda, there needs to be personal commitment and a roadmap of how to achieve that objective.  Otherwise, it is just tossing intellectual grenades that strafe the campaign battlefield but are sound and fury which signify nothing.

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