Politics

01.29.12

Gingrich’s Biggest Enemy May Be His Lack of Organization

Gingrich found out this week how hard it is to face what he called the ‘Romney attack machine.’ It’s even tougher when, like Gingrich, you hardly have a machine to call your own.

Since his entire staff staged a mass walkout last spring, Newt Gingrich has insisted that he was running a new-style campaign that didn’t include having hordes of high-priced consultants and fawning staff. His memory of the grand takeover of the U.S. House in the 1994 election has it that it took essentially two people: Gingrich and his longtime political adviser, Joe Gaylord.

In the debate Thursday night, Gingrich complained that “it’s increasingly interesting to watch the Romney attack machine coordinate things,” after a full day of an array of attacks on Gingrich along an astonishingly broad front—from Elliott Abrams, to R. Emmett Tyrrell, to Bob Dole—all made easy to find because they were accumulated and posted by Matt Drudge.  

It was political shock and awe.

Were the attacks unfair? That depends upon who one is backing in the race.  Were they, as Gingrich suggested, coordinated? Clearly. Was it the kind of day that only a campaign with a fully developed plan and the capacity to execute it could have pulled off? Absolutely. Could Gingrich have done it even if he had thought of it? Not on your life.

Gingrich’s complaint was actually a compliment. The Romney campaign appears to be a well-trained army, which has plenty of ammunition and the discipline to use those bullets when they will have the most effect. Like on the day of a hugely important debate.

The lack of organization first bit Gingrich when he failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot. It is a difficult task, but as both Romney and Ron Paul got it done, it is obviously not impossible. After the debate Thursday night, at least one person on Gingrich’s team who went to the spin room complained that Romney had packed the audience, a claim echoed in a Gingrich campaign email.

Gingrich, remember, said he would not attend last night’s debate if the audience were not allowed to be demonstrative–unlike Monday night’s NBC debate in which the audience was instructed to remain silent throughout.

Gingrich made true that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for; you might get it.”  He got the audience-participation rule changed, but didn’t have the campaign operation to be able to use it to his advantage; that is, he couldn’t pack the room with his supporters.

Every bureau chief in Washington, D.C., is painfully aware that, in spite of it looking like caucuses and primaries have been conducted one after the other, January is the lightest month of the GOP primary season.

The four events have been sequential: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. Starting in February, campaigns have to operate in multiple states simultaneously. On March 6, there will be 10 primaries on the same day. 

The Romney campaign appears to be a well-trained army, which has plenty of ammunition and the discipline to use those bullets when they will have the most effect.

Gingrich is a student of military history, tactics, and strategy. He knows, or should know, that the same person cannot design the strategy for a war, do the logistics, sell to civilians why this is crucial to their future, train the troops, and lead the charge up the hill.

It takes a trained army to run a war. It takes a trained staff to run a major campaign.