With few expecting tomorrow’s Florida primary to be anything but a decisive win for Mitt Romney, some observers are turning to the question of what Newt Gingrich will do in the weeks ahead in the aftermath of this anticipated defeat. While the Republican race has been highly volatile, February could be a very lean month for Gingrich with no debates scheduled for weeks at a time and no states voting or caucusing that give him a good chance of victory. But even if Romney starts rolling up victories, few think Gingrich will withdraw even if it is clear he has little or no chance to win the nomination. Instead, Gingrich will continue to run hard while making increasingly bitter attacks on the all-but-certain GOP nominee all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
The possibility that Gingrich’s candidacy will rise from the dead one more time has to frighten Republicans who believe he has no chance to beat Barack Obama. But it is this sore loser scenario that really ought to be scaring them. As Politico reports this morning, there is every indication Gingrich will be fighting a scorched earth campaign against Romney for as long as he has a penny in his pocket. In doing so, he could help exacerbate the rift between his Tea Party supporters and Romney and make it harder, if not impossible, for the frontrunner to beat Barack Obama in November.
Gingrich has no incentive to be a good sport like most Republican runners-up in the past. The former speaker has no need to worry about mending fences with GOP power bases in order to secure another White House race in the future simply because it is unlikely he would run again and no chance he would benefit, as others have in the past, from his runner-up status in 2012. Gingrich has nothing personally to gain from clearing the way for the all-but-certain nominee and to help strengthen his chances in November against Obama.
Just as important is the temperament of the candidate. Even at the height of his power as Speaker of the House, Gingrich was always better suited to the role of insurgent bomb thrower than power broker. If anything, he may actually enjoy the idea of leading a grass roots revolt against the GOP establishment even if he is just as much a member of that establishment as anyone else. Having bought into his own increasingly bitter attacks on Romney for supposedly being a liberal, it may be close to impossible for Gingrich to step back in off of the rhetorical ledge onto which he has stepped.
With the GOP primary rules mandating proportional allocation of delegates, it may even be possible for him to come close to preventing Romney from obtaining a majority until very late in the year, even if he never won another state after South Carolina. That would force Romney to spend time, energy and money fighting Republicans rather than preparing for Obama. Rather than a long fight helping Romney, the Gingrich onslaught would be aided by a press that will latch onto his attacks in a way that Hillary Clinton’s criticisms of Obama did not. Gingrich could ensure that the Republican convention is a bloodbath rather than a coronation of the GOP standard-bearer.
The only question is whether Gingrich’s financial supporters are as interested in sabotaging Romney as he is. Considering that his main backer, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, is primarily interested in removing the possibility of a second Obama administration pressuring Israel, it may be that at some point he will consider it prudent to turn off the spigot of contributions. It may be that just as Adelson was able to revive Gingrich’s hopes with financial contributions, he could at some point put the Republicans out of their misery.
But failing that, Republicans could be in for a long, bitter and ultimately destructive Gingrich campaign whose only object would be to diminish Romney. That is exactly what President Obama is counting on.