Today’s Courier Herald Problem:
At this time last week, I wrote that Mitt Romney was the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, and those grounded in reality should begin to accept that fact and plan for it accordingly. Rick Santorum has done just that, spending the weekend orchestrating his graceful exit. Remaining in the race was only time spent away from his family during a time of need, and staying in an additional couple of weeks had him facing a potential political career ending loss in his home state of Pennsylvania. He is now among the list of former candidates pledging to defeat Barack Obama in November.
Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul currently plan to defiantly remain in the race until the Tampa convention. For Paul, who ran for President in 1988 as a Libertarian, this is no surprise. The Republican Party is just a convenient vehicle for him to place Libertarian economic and foreign policy views on the national stage. Leaving the race would shut down the oxygen needed to keep his media exposure alive. He makes no pledge to the eventual nominee, and likely will not. Ron Paul is all about Ron Paul, and not about expanding the Republican Party for victory.
Gingrich, however, is not Ron Paul. He is a consummate party man. In the 1990’s, he was the face of the Republican Party for both supporters and detractors. He has spent his entire political career building a modern Republican party as a professor at a small college in Georgia, as a back bench bomb throwing Congressman in Washington, as Speaker of the U.S. House, and as an author, pundit, and presumed elder statesman of the party.
Yet Gingrich’s attempt to become President has revealed a distinct problem of capital, and one that continues to grow by the day. His financial capital issues have dogged the campaign from the beginning. His first week of being an official candidate had Tiffany & Company as an uninvited running mate courtesy of a seven figure credit line he maintained with the upscale jeweler. His campaign was financed not by grass roots activists but by a billionaire casino owner. Those SuperPac funds were ironically used to attack Mitt Romney on being a successful capitalist.
Gingrich’s American Solutions group was liquidated early in the campaign and The Center For Health Transformation – formerly the Gingrich Group which received “consulting” retainers from Freddie Mac – filed for bankruptcy last week. The punctuation on his financial issues came Tuesday when it was revealed that his $500 check to qualify for the Utah primary ballot had bounced.
The larger capital at risk for Gingrich at this point is not financial, however. By continuing to oppose the nominee of the party during a time that is historically used to unite disparate interest groups around the common cause of victory, Gingrich places at stake the political capital of being a senior party statesman that he has accumulated over his adult lifetime.
Gingrich, ever the historian, appears to liken himself to Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney to Gerald Ford. Reagan’s opposition to Ford at the 1976 convention kept the party divided and may have cost Ford the election, but paved the way for Reagan to re-emerge 4 years later as the conservative choice for the Republican Party.
A key difference between Ford’s circumstances and Romney’s, however, is that Ford was not chosen by voters prior to becoming Vice-President or President. He was President by circumstance, yet rose to the occasion to begin the healing process of a very divided nation.
Romney, on the other hand, is the choice of Republican voters. He was not the first choice of many, but he will be the only choice to emerge from Tampa to be on the ballot in November as the GOP nominee. Gingrich, by continuing to insist that Romney isn’t sufficiently conservative, is denying the will of voters, and attempting to cast a role for himself that voters did not choose.
Political capital has a tendency to fade over time when it is spent on items that do not pay dividends. Gingrich’s time since he sat in the seat of power in D.C.’s capitol is well over a decade. The political risk assumed by running for President has not paid off with the immediate goal. Continuing on the current path risks much of the remaining political capital Gingrich holds in reserve.
Gingrich is at a decision point for his political legacy. Whether he chooses to be a supportive part of the modern Republican party he helped build, or to be part of tearing it down is up to him. How he will be remembered and his legacy hang in the balance.