At one time, Newt Gingrich was the nomination nemesis of Mitt Romney. Now, the former Governor might want him to stick around a little longer.
It is truly amazing how things change in the political horse-race of a presidential primary, particularly this one.
Ignore what seems like eons ago: that former candidates such as Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman actually had straw poll wins, establishment support, and endorsements behind their campaigns. Now also forget what you thought just a few weeks ago: that the sole purpose for Newt Gingrich – after two state wins and a little money to continue – to stay in the race is to keep Mitt Romney from earning 1,144 delegates and the GOP nomination.
Actually, at this point, if he stays in the race, he will likely do the exact opposite, which might be why Mitt Romney might nestle against Newt Gingrich and his campaign over the next few weeks of the campaign trail. It would explain the recent meeting between the two men.
Of course, it might add more fuel to Rick Santorum’s fire and desire to get Gingrich out of the race.
As long as Gingrich remains in the race, along with Texas Congressman Ron Paul, there are scant opportunities for the former Pennsylvania senator to leverage as a bump in the polls or the voters’ collective perception of the race. No one – not CNN, not Fox News, not the Republican Party or the Tea Party activist base – is interested in seeing yet another debate with four Republican presidential candidates. No one is interested in the same dynamic between the 4 men on the campaign trail, especially now that President Obama and Governor Romney are trading salvos in what seems to be a preview to the fall campaign.
With Gingrich refusing to drop out of the race before the April 24 primaries in 5 northeast states (including the Keystone State), he serves as the perfect, yet inconvenient buffer between Romney and the “one-on-one” match-up that Santorum’s supporters would surely call for via one final debate sans the former Speaker in the field.
In essence, there can never be a true “Anti-Romney” running in the race as the “true conservative” for Republican voters as long as two “not Romneys” continue to run. Without that true head-to-head, Romney will head into Tampa with the breeze finally at his back, much to the chagrin of Gingrich.
The former governor of Massachusetts knows that Gingrich highly resents (even still) the negative campaigning Romney was forced to resort to in order to evaporate Gingrich’s double-digit lead in Iowa some months ago. In the former speaker’s mind, the nomination he might have won was lost because he could not defend himself in Iowa or Florida from Romney’s barrage.
In the back of Romney’s mind, he must know that Gingrich abhors the fact that he will win the nomination more through attrition and funding than performance or inspiration. With that in mind, however, it is within Mr. Romney’s best interests to tolerate Gingrich-inspired jabs of “Massachusetts moderate” or “Obama-Lite”, the sort that Senator Santorum has not infused into his campaign rhetoric.
Gingrich’s presence takes away any temptation to prompt one-on-one calls between Santorum and Romney, allowing the status quo of this race (particularly since Illinois and its March 20 primary) to maintain its current course. That is a huge advantage for Romney, a candidate that struggled for months to convince Republican primary voters that his candidacy as a standard-bearer matches the money, campaign experience, and organization that he has built since 2007. Finally, however, Romney seems to be on a pedestal no other Republican candidate can remove him from.
No change within the presidential primary field means there is not a clear, inexpensive, and effective way for Santorum to remove Romney from that perch of “presumptive nominee.” No change within the presidential primary field means no need for the media to go at a break-neck pace during the three-week lull between last Tuesday’s three-state sweep for Romney and “Yankee Primary Day.” Santorum, who hasn’t created much buzz aside from bowling some turkeys in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, cannot afford to allow the status quo to continue when it includes Romney ignoring him completely on the campaign trail. As long as Gingrich is not thinking about announcing that his campaign is suspended, Santorum is nothing more than an afterthought to most conservative voters.
Yes, politics make strange bedfellows. For the next three weeks, the candidate that has verbalized his disgust for the GOP’s presumptive nominee the most is now the best resource that Mr. Romney can have. Santorum has been saying for weeks now that without a clear one-on-one shot at Romney, he likely has no shot at the nomination. Shooting around the elephant in the room – Newt Gingrich’s long-since deflated presidential campaign – is making that shot tougher. At this point, Mitt Romney would not prefer it any other way.
LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic365 that can be found every Saturday with Democratic pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 Pacific.) He is regularly featured on CNN’s “Early Start” weekdays 5:00 AM – 7:00 AM Eastern and CNN Newsroom at 12:30 PM Eastern. Hear “The McAllister Minute” on the American Urban Radio Network each week and catch the radio show “Get Right with Lenny McAllister” live on LMGILIVE.com at 11 AM Eastern weekdays and re-broadcast on Politic365.