The Gingrich campaign finally seems to be acknowledging that it’s mathematically impossible for them to win the nomination in the traditional way at this point. So Newt has now settled on a new goal: stay in the race in order to prevent Mitt Romney from collecting the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination. Byron York reports:
Gingrich no longer says he can capture the 1,144 delegates required to wrap up the Republican nomination. Instead, he now speaks frankly about a new plan: Keep Romney from getting to 1,144 by the end of the GOP primary season in June, and then start what Gingrich calls a “conversation” about who should be the Republican nominee. That conversation, the plan goes, would lead to a brokered GOP convention at which Gingrich would emerge as the eventual nominee.
“Our goal first is to keep Romney well below 1,000,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said an hour before Gingrich addressed a small crowd of disappointed supporters gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel. ”It doesn’t have to be 1,000, or 1,050 — it has to be below 1,100.” If Gingrich succeeds, Hammond continued, “This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we’re going to go to the convention floor.”
Of course, if the goal is to undermine Romney’s chance at the nomination, the last thing Gingrich should be doing is staying in the race. The longer he stays in, the more he helps Romney by siphoning support away from Rick Santorum and splitting the conservative vote.
And if there were ever a time when Santorum needed Gingrich out of the race, it’s now, with the crucial Illinois primary just a week away. Coming off his two victories in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum has the momentum at this point to potentially take Illinois – and deal a devastating blow to the Romney campaign in the process.
The latest poll from the Chicago Tribune shows Romney leading Santorum by just four points, 35 percent to 31 percent, with Gingrich trailing at 12 percent. If Gingrich drops out, endorses Santorum, and urges his supporters to vote for him, it could easily push the former Pennsylvania senator over the top in the state. And if, after dropping out, Gingrich agreed to pledge the delegates he’s already won to Santorum, it could completely change the dynamic of the race and actually make it competitive again.
Gingrich has the potential to do more damage to the Romney campaign than any other candidate at this point. But that would require him to drop out of the race, something he hasn’t shown any interest in doing. Instead, he’s trying to justify his losing campaign by saying he’s staying in the race to hurt Romney. Is anyone actually buying that excuse?