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News analysis: What happened to Newt?

26 April 2012, 10:21Simim Williamson

The Republican electorate has spoken, repeatedly, and Newt Gingrich finally began listening, albeit a few months and $4m too late.
According to reports on Wednesday, Gingrich is set to suspend his floundering campaign on Tuesday next week, and will probably endorse the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Gingrich staked the continuation of his primary campaign in winning the state of Delaware on Tuesday. Although Delaware is worth only 19 delegates in the race to the required 1 144 for the party nomination, Delaware Republicans did pick Christine O’Donnell as a Senator candidate in 2010 – if you remember, O'Donnell was the far right candidate who became famous because she advocated against masturbation in her youth.

This is seemingly the sole criterion under which Gingrich decided to play in Delaware: Its recent history of picking an "alternative" candidate.
Gingrich has won two states in the Republican presidential race thus far, the third contest in South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. Since the Georgia win, however, he has struggled to even finish second. In the five states that voted on Tuesday he failed to finish second in any except Delaware, and even that "triumph" saw him lose by nearly 30 percentage points.
So what was the problem?


Gingrich was an early benefiter of the anti-Romney sentiment that did the rounds through the blood vessels of conservatives. To be fair, this sentiment also temporarily boosted Michele Bachmann and the entertaining candidacy of Herman Cain, but Rick Santorum was the only person who managed to capitalise on this. Gingrich enjoyed a bubble in South Carolina but was then beaten by the Romney millions in Florida.

After Gingrich won Georgia, on the same day he lost key southern states to Santorum, he continued to lose in states where he should have been – in fact he wasn't even on the ballot in Virginia due to the disorganised campaign he ran.
Gingrich may have sustained some fits and starts of momentum, largely thanks to many big cheques written by one donor, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While it's nice to have one constant stream of money, it doesn't indicate any kind of support. And one donor does not a dwindling campaign fund: Adelson didn't make his money by being a fool, and continually pouring millions into a campaign that is going nowhere is not the mark of a good businessman.

In fact, Gingrich's campaign, as I alluded to earlier, is deep in debt - $4m deep. Continuing the campaign was simply financially unsustainable.
Gingrich also framed his campaign within the mantle of "big ideas" – admirable, yet he allowed himself to look silly at times. As candidates pander to each state they visit, Gingrich decided to suck up to Floridians by mentioning how he would expand the US space programme, most of which is based in the state: "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon."

When you're already struggling to be taken seriously, a moon colonisation project is hardly the way to motivate the electorate (49 states of which are not in Florida) to point your way. In comparison, Mitt Romney, leading this race by quite some distance, has maintained a focus on the economy.

Last to know

Gingrich also suffered due to the end of the televised Republican debates, (the last one which featured all remaining candidates on 22 February). He is an experienced politician with a good eye for policy and a thorough, if somewhat skewed, version of American political history. He is a superb debater, very comfortable in front of a camera and lets no one get on top of him, including debate moderators.

During the debates he tapped into conservative anger at liberal media bias, was able to end every statement he made with an enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, and could explain what he meant. The debates were also free media coverage – remember, the finances of his campaign are in the dwang, which means purchasing advertising is impossible.
Without money, positive media coverage or any kind of sustained support, Gingrich was doomed. It’s just slightly sad that he was one of the last people to work it out.


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