What happens after Florida’s Republican primary today, which polls show Mitt Romney leading by double digits as the official ballot-casting day arrives? For Newt Gingrich, the answer may lie in some of his state’s most famous military history.
First, the other candidates:
Mitt Romney will be working to solidify his lead. The fact that there are only caucuses over the week after the Florida contest (except for a meaningless primary in Missouri which will not result in the allocation of delegates) can only help the former Massachusetts governor whose caucus organization is only matched by Ron Paul’s.
Despite coming to Colorado on Wednesday to campaign ahead of that swing state’s February 7th caucuses, Rick Santorum will soon get out of the race primarily because he’ll be out of money but he will say (and it will to some degree be true) that it’s to be with his youngest daughter who was born with an inevitably fatal genetic anomaly and whose health has been bad in recent days. There are two things which could make this prediction wrong: First, the fact that he really doesn’t have anything else to do and he’s proven that he’s willing and able to stick around on the lowest of budgets. Second, if he dislikes Newt Gingrich more than he dislikes Mitt Romney, he could stay in just to keep trying to split the “anti-Romney” vote. Your guess is as good as mine, though I’d have to think Santorum would prefer Gingrich to Romney.
Ron Paul, who will also be in Colorado this week, will never get out of the race because he, like Santorum, has nothing else to do (since he’s retiring from Congress after this term), and he has plenty of money to keep going. But he’s basically a non-event since Ron Paul voters are just as likely to vote Libertarian, Democrat, or not at all, as to support either Romney or Gingrich. He will not run on the Libertarian ticket because it would put his son in an impossible position.
Newt Gingrich has said that he intends to stay in until the nominating convention, and given how deeply personal his antagonism toward Mitt Romney has become, it’s hard to see that as an idle boast. Newt is out for blood, feeling that he would be leading the chase for the nomination if only Romney weren’t so well funded, and feeling wronged at every turn by a “Massachusetts liberal” dissembler. This despite a Gallup poll released Monday showing that on the question of who is more “sincere and authentic,” Americans give Romney a 14 point edge over the former Speaker of the House… not to mention a 20 point lead on the question of presidential personality and leadership skills.
But Newt will have none of it. He wants to break the will of those supporting Romney. In 1864, the Union’s Major General William Tecumseh Sherman issued orders prior to his (in)famous March to the Sea. Included in these orders was direction to army commanders that if local inhabitants “burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.”
So, what happens after Florida? My prediction: Mitt will spend much of the next month prior to the March 6th “Super Tuesday” primaries campaigning in Ohio, the most important state until Texas’ April 3 contest.
But Gingrich’s strategy may not be that straight forward: As Charles Krauthammer mentioned on Fox News on Monday, Gingrich may in fact focus on trying to win a few smaller states, especially southern states, to get to a plurality of delegates in 5 or more states. He’s got South Carolina and you have to figure he’ll take home state of Georgia. He needs three more, and like General Sherman he will do whatever it takes. And here’s why…quoting from the Rules of the Republican Party:
Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a plurality of the delegates from each of five (5) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.
If Gingrich can get a plurality of delegates in 5 or more states, he will have his name entered into the nomination and perhaps turn the convention into a circus depending on a few other factors, particularly how large Romney’s delegate lead is at the time (assuming Romney will be leading as political bettors seem to think it will).
Gingrich feels deeply wronged by Romney and by the vicissitudes of election politics. After all, Gingrich’s dramatic post-South Carolina surge and his equally dramatic collapse was the second time he’s had momentum which put him ahead of Romney in national polls (although he never overtook Romney in betting odds at intrade.com).
Gingrich has been on his share of political rollercoasters but probably never anything like this. It’s a minefield of “what if”s and “if only”s that would be particularly hard for a man with Gingrich’s ego to peacefully coexist with. What if Rick Perry had gotten out earlier and perhaps given me a chance to prevent Santorum’s Iowa surge and take the first caucus? If only Mitt Romney and his friends weren’t so rich. What if that Freddie Mac news had never come out? If only I could control the debate rules.
It’s hard to go from being the master of the universe to just another player on the political chessboard, maybe more than a pawn but certainly not the king.
Newt Gingrich is out for bloody revenge against the man who is about to snatch away the brass ring that was tantalizingly near to the former Speaker’s grasp. Like General Sherman, he shows no qualms against instigating war in which the vast majority of the damage is fundamentally unnecessary but simply meant to destroy the psychology of the enemy. And, in another historical irony, Gingrich, like General Sherman, believes that in his cause “the rich…are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious usually neutral or friendly.”
Unless saner heads prevail — and Gingrich is not known for being easily persuaded into a more temperate course — the rest of the Gingrich campaign will be the political equivalent of Sherman’s March to the Sea, leaving behind miles of scorched earth (including, like Sherman, much of Georgia) that may not be arable political land for Mitt Romney for months to come – with all the possible ramifications for the most important presidential of most Americans’ lifetimes.
As far as Gingrich’s upcoming Sherman-inspired march goes, Newt is a professor of history who lectures at the National War College, and he’s from Georgia on top of it all. No doubt he thought of these comparisons before you or I did, and no doubt someone with him at the time would have seen an unmistakable, if brief, smile pass over his face.