Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Sometime this week, Newt Gingrich is expected to officially suspend his campaign to be President. Running a unique campaign to the end, even the withdrawal is lasting over a week with the exact date of the statement ratifying a foregone conclusion still up in the air as this is written. As such, this campaign finishes with echoes of how it began.
A couple weeks shy of one year ago, Newt Gingrich returned to his political home of Georgia to announce that he would in fact be a candidate for the Republican nomination to be President. This announcement had also been delayed, as Gingrich had to spend extra time untangling himself from his business interests. His campaign survived two of those. His American Solutions group was liquidated early in the campaign, and the Center For Health Transformation – formerly known as the Gingrich Group – declared bankruptcy several weeks ago.
The fact that this campaign lasted almost a year is a remarkable feat in and of itself, despite the fact that it has effectively been over since the second week of March. Given the rocky start with a Meet The Press interview literally hours into the campaign where Gingrich cited Republican efforts to control entitlement spending as “right wing social engineering”, Gingrich’s campaign looked like it was headed for an obituary titled “Newt, We hardly knew ya”. But those of us here in Georgia know him well.
On the eve of his announcement I wrote “the smartest man in the room must now quit trying to show how much he knows, and convince potential supporters and voters of what he has learned. Unfortunately for Gingrich, it is difficult to demonstrate sincerity when there is a very real and clear goal of achieving political office on the table.” The question of sincerity is now settled in Gingrich’s favor, provided it is judged from the standpoint that Gingrich sincerely wanted to be President.
Critics who held throughout the course of this campaign that Newt was just on an extended book tour must face the reality of Gingrich’s multiple decisions and actions which have had a negative effect on both his current net worth as well as his future earning power. The two primary vehicles which served as his fundraising and income arms are now liquidated. He also provoked a public feud over his former employer FoxNews over the amount and kind of coverage he was receiving as a candidate. This prompted FoxNews Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes to indicate that Gingrich must be auditioning for a place at CNN because he wasn’t welcome back at the network.
It’s not that Gingrich is likely to be destitute as he returns to being a private citizen. One who believes that Gingrich orchestrated this campaign to raise his already high speaking fees or the sales of his next book would have to question the multiple decisions that put his quest for the nomination ahead of his personal finances.
It’s not as if Gingrich’s decisions were not questionable. When he was down and almost out, Gingrich managed fleeting glimpses of a wise leader and statesman. Yet each time success was within his grasp, he returned to the undisciplined candidate who valued off the cuff “grandiose ideas” more than a disciplined campaign strategy.
The candidate who routed the field in the first in the South primary followed up his performance in Florida not talking about how to fix the state’s housing problems that are among the worst in the nation. Instead, he spent the week talking about putting houses on the moon, patting himself on the back the entire week for thinking big. Voters with mortgages bigger than the value of their homes took a long look and decided that big ideas without a big plan to execute them or big tax dollars to pay for them. It was the final beginning of the end of this campaign. But likely, not the end of Gingrich.
Those who have counted Newt out many times before continue to be amazed at his ability to reinvent and persevere. He clearly has some fence mending to do with the “establishment”, but retains a loyal following that will likely still listen to speeches and buy a few books. For now, however, his primary role is to cede the stage to Mitt Romney and to the extent he is able, fall in line.
For the Newt Gingrich who entered this campaign seeking personal and political redemption, time is running short. At his age and stage of life, there are few if any political campaigns left to run. The candidate who spoke frequently of being a changed family man has some time to be a grandfather.
Perhaps in a surprise to all that’s the campaign he’ll really invest in to win.