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06.09.11

How Newt Gingrich’s Campaign Imploded

The former speaker's top aides bolted en masse today, leaving his campaign in tatters. Peter J. Boyer on staffers’ complaints about Gingrich’s rogue inclinations, the Greek cruise with wife Callista that was the final straw—and whether the candidate has any chance of recovering. The former speaker's top aides bolted en masse today, leaving his campaign in tatters. Peter J. Boyer on staffers’ complaints about Gingrich’s rogue inclinations, the Greek cruise with wife Callista that was the final straw—and whether the candidate has any chance of recovering.

Newt Gingrich’s troubled campaign for the Republican presidential nomination finally imploded Thursday when the core of his political team, vexed by the candidate’s own erratic performance, quit en masse. The decisive moment came in a meeting at Gingrich’s Washington, D.C. office between the candidate and his top two operatives, campaign manager Rob Johnson and strategist Sam Dawson, who had hoped to convince Gingrich that his approach as a candidate—which one insider described as “appalling”—needed a drastic transformation. When Gingrich did not agree, Johnson and Dawson said they were done.

That began a cascade of defections, including Gingrich’s longtime and trusted aide, Rick Tyler, that effectively ended the former speaker’s run for the presidency, which began less than a month ago. By the end of the day, campaign staffers in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia, also had jumped ship, along with Sonny Perdue, Gingrich’s national co-chairman, who said he now supports the candidacy of Tim Pawlenty.

On his Facebook page, Gingrich promised to start his campaign anew, with another launch Sunday in Los Angeles. But the common view in political circles was expressed by former Gingrich aide, the conservative commentator Rich Galen, who said, “This campaign is over.”

“It’s not a hobby. This is a full-time, 80-hour-a-week job.”

Almost from the start, Gingich’s campaign team had fretted that their candidate lacked the patience and discipline to accommodate himself to the exacting process of running a presidential campaign. The first sign of his inclination to go rogue was his May 15 appearance on the NBC broadcast, “Meet the Press,” during which he entangled himself in a controversy over the House Republican budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, which he criticized as “right-wing social engineering.” The Ryan plan has become Republican orthodoxy, and Gingrich found himself having to explain, and then apologize for, his remarks.

One Gingrich staffer, no longer with the campaign, noted today that the “Meet the Press” appearance, which came just four days after Gingrich announced his candidacy, was booked by Gingrich himself—and was hardly the ideal venue for a candidate trying to win conservative hearts.

The final straw for some in the campaign was Gingrich’s decision to suddenly absent himself from the fray earlier this month to take a luxury Greek cruise with his wife, Callista—an odyssey one Gingrich insider called, “the Greek tragedy.” Some on Gingrich’s campaign staff had strongly urged the candidate not to abandon the field for an opulent vacation.

Gingrich’s insistence on taking the cruise reflected the deep disconnect between his staff’s idea of what was required to win the nomination, and Gingrich’s own. Gingrich sometimes “seemed almost annoyed at the process,” one top staffer said.

Some of the blame for that disconnect has been laid at the feet of Callista Gingrich, who didn’t appreciate the demands that a presidential campaign places upon the candidate and his family. “It’s how much time that his wife thinks that he should spend on this,” the staffer said. “It’s not a hobby. This is a full-time, 80-hour-a-week job.”

Over the winter, when Gingrich was still mulling a presidential run, I asked him what role Callista, who has been Gingrich’s full partner in their documentary productions and other projects, would play in his decision. “Callista has a deciding vote,” Gingrich said. “It would be impossible to run without Callista’s active support and enthusiasm. You just couldn’t do it.”

Callista has been a constant rhetorical reference point for Gingrich (“Callista and I…” was a standard refrain), but Mrs. Gingrich has balked at the reality of a campaign. “She didn’t have any idea what it takes to run for president,” the adviser said. “She couldn’t understand why it takes so much time and commitment, and it was, ‘Why can’t we go on vacation? We work hard.’ Well, you do, and you deserve to go on vacation. But that’s not how this works.”

Tiffany’s At times, the rough-and-tumble of the campaign affected Callista personally. She was at Gingrich’s side at a book signing when a protester showered her husband with glitter and confetti. And, she was implicitly the target of criticism over Gingrich’s maintenance of a $500,000 line of credit at .

If Gingrich does not manage to revive his campaign, it will be another shake-up in what is proving to be a very fluid Republican field. Potential contenders such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and entrepreneur Donald Trump have declared themselves out of the race, while others, such as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are still considering entering. It had been supposed that Gingrich’s snagging of Rob Johnson and David Carney, two close Perry associates, was proof that Perry would not run. But two weeks ago, Perry told Newsweek/The Daily Beast that he would consider a presidential run at the conclusion of this year’s Texas legislative session

That legislative term was extended earlier this month when Perry called legislators into a special session, which will last until the end of the month. Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner, told The Daily Beast today that Perry will consider his options at the end of the session.

“He’s thinking about this, as he is a number of other issues,” Miner said. “But what happened today does not have any impact on that. His focus remains on the special legislative session.”

Asked about reports that Perry has already had talks with Carney and Johnson, Miner said, “I’m not going to comment on any personal conversations that the governor might or might not have had.”