So Illinois makes, what, 31 of 33 primary contests in which the traveling sideshow that is the Newt Gingrich campaign has been stomped like so many wine grapes?
He finished the night at the back of the pack in the single digits. Even for a dilettante campaigner accustomed to being a second-tier player in a lackluster field, that’s pretty sad. Sadder still? Newt’s Illinois beatdown wasn’t even the most humiliating development of the day.
Nope. That distinction goes to Team Gingrich’s monthly filing with the Federal Election Commission. February updates were due Tuesday night, and Gingrich campaign officials were already preparing the media for the sea of red ink. Last month, the former House speaker’s campaign spent $2.8 million, while pulling in only $2.6 million. This anemic haul put Newt solidly in last place for fundraising—some $700,000 behind Ron Paul, who most folks have forgotten even remains in the race. While pretty much everyone had already figured Gingrich’s campaign was running out of gas, the details of its financial straits will only increase Republican grumbling about the speaker’s ongoing vanity project.
Such setbacks don’t vex Newt overmuch. He clearly gave up running to win several states ago and only stays in the race because he’s drunk on a cocktail of spite, narcissism, and general mischief. Indeed, so long as a smattering of other spendthrift supporters keep the dough flowing, why should Newt’s subsidized road trip ever end? Especially now, when the former speaker has his very own Secret Service detail, thus confirming the big-cheese status he has so long possessed in his own mind.
Still, if you’re Newt Gingrich, one of the most legendarily self-serving public servants of modern times, you have to think about securing your future—and maintaining your credit line at Tiffany’s. Arguably, conditions are ripe for the speaker’s doing just that.
While Gingrich’s campaign may have morphed into an extended holiday for Callista and him, it still has real ramifications for the rest of the party. Illinois was a painful loss for Rick Santorum, coming on the heels of an unfortunate string of gaffes. April is likely to be a rough ride for the former senator, with a string of East Coast primaries thought to favor Romney. Sweater-vest enthusiasts really, really need Gingrich to get out now, so their guy can go toe-to-toe with Mittens.
Team Romney, by contrast, might be better served by Gingrich’s sticking around a bit longer to siphon off at least a trickle of votes from the right. He could, for instance, steal a few delegates from Santorum in Saturday’s Louisiana primary. Likewise, assuming Santorum is still haunting Romney come May, Gingrich could divide conservatives when Indiana, West Virginia, and North Carolina vote on the 8th.
As for the rest of the party, many are growing increasingly fretful over the violence being done to the GOP brand. They just want this internecine slap-fight to end so the healing can begin.
Despite Gingrich’s solid bargaining position, however, things get sticky when you start trying to envision what carrots someone could realistically offer the former speaker to cede (or not to cede) the field.
A cabinet post? Don’t bet on it. Outside conservative circles, Gingrich remains more toxic than a poison-dart frog. So with all due respect to the cabinet-stacking fantasies of the Southern Baptists’ Richard Land, who has suggested Romney could win conservative love by sending Gingrich to the United Nations, any whiff that Newt was being considered for a prominent appointment would risk sending independents and moderates stampeding toward Obama.
What about paying off Gingrich’s campaign debt? This will, of course, need to happen. The candidate already owes some staffers in the solid five figures. Romney is obviously better equipped to handle this burden than is Santorum. Then again, who’s to say what other party leaders might be inclined—and in a position—to put a thumb on the other side of the scale? All things considered, such a mundane offer doesn’t seem likely to sway Gingrich much either way.
Indeed, with a larger-than-life character like Newt, we may need to get more creative here. What, besides money and acclaim, do we know sends a thrill up the former speaker’s leg?
Zoos. Gingrich’s enthusiasm for wildlife is one of his more endearing traits. Maybe Santorum should promise to name him head of the national zoo. Alternatively, Romney could offer to buy him his own wildlife preserve.
Or dinosaurs. Of course Gingrich loves them. What overgrown kid doesn’t? Why not let this self-proclaimed “amateur paleontologist” oversee the dino hall at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History? Then there’s Civil War fiction. Gingrich has coauthored four novels about the North-South clash. Maybe it’s time some rich Hollywood conservative optioned a couple, perhaps even give Newt a bit part. Word on the street is that Mel Gibson is fresh out of anger management and ready for a new start.
Or how about offering the renowned space nut a shot at running NASA? This, to me, seems by far the most promising option. Post shuttle program, the agency hasn’t had much exciting to do, and planning moon colonies could help keep Newt contented and out of trouble.
The farther from the White House Republicans can focus Gingrich’s attention, the better off his party ultimately will be.