Newt Gingrich Soldiers On

Fox News reports on the latest reconfiguration of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign:

Newt Gingrich is laying off a third of his campaign staff and cutting back on his schedule in an effort designed to sustain the candidate’s long-shot ambitions of winning the nomination at the Republican National Convention, Fox News confirms.

Michael Krull, who took the helm as campaign manager when Gingrich suffered a mass staff exodus in June, has been replaced by deputy campaign manager Vince Haley, a longtime policy adviser to the former House Speaker.

“Michael Krull took over the campaign in June at a moment of great turmoil and helped get us to a point where we were the national frontrunner,” wrote communications director Joe DeSantis in a statement. “But Newt and he agreed that it was best for him to step aside for this new phase.”

The staff shakeup, first reported by Politico, is designed around a “big choice convention” strategy, which the campaign says will be built around two goals: showing how Gingrich is the most capable candidate to take on the president and courting delegates in anticipation of a brokered convention.

The reorganization will also involve ramping up the candidate’s online presence and slowing down his travel to a more affordable pace.

(Emphasis mine.)  I didn’t have the impression that a weak online presence was one of the Gingrich campaign’s big problems.

Low on funds, and with no foreseeable prospect of winning any states beyond the two he’s already carried – his home state of Georgia and neighboring South Carolina – Gingrich’s notion of somehow persuading the Republican National Convention to disregard the entire primary process and choose him, following a desperate battle to keep Mitt Romney from picking up Delegate Number 1,144, is… improbable.  I’ll admit to an enduring fondness for plucky underdogs, but if I might mix my house pet metaphors, this parrot is pining for the fjords.

Just for starters, the odds of keeping Romney from getting to 1,144 delegates are lengthening.  It could still happen – he’s about halfway there, and some of the delegate allocations from previous state contests either remain uncertain, or face legal challenge.  Florida, for example, appears to have awarded its 50 delegates to Romney in a winner-take-all fashion that violates national party rules.

However, both Gingrich and Rick Santorum face a big problem in the remaining primaries: their campaigns are becoming implausible.  It’s a much larger problem for Gingrich, of course, but Santorum’s path to the nomination increasingly depends upon holding Romney under the magic number of delegates, and prevailing in a floor fight. 

It’s possible that many of the remaining primary states could embrace the tao of the sweater vest, and give Santorum lopsided victories in defiance of current polling, and his previous performance.  But even Santorum’s big victories have been largely balanced out by Romney wins in other contests on the same day, or produced meager spoils for Santorum due to proportional delegate allocation.  His big win in Louisiana gained him a net five delegates

Santorum currently has 263 delegates.  The remaining primaries, including the big jackpots in Texas and California, represent only 1,099 more delegates altogether.  Santorum would need to win 881 of them to take the nomination.  That means he’s got to take eighty percent of the remaining delegates, and only four of the remaining contests – Utah, New Jersey, Delaware, and the District of Columbia – are winner-take-all.  All four of those states, added together, would yield a mere 126 delegates… and Santorum isn’t even on the ballot in D.C., which means he’s not in the running for those 19 delegates.

Gingrich, with only 135 votes in the bank, has an even smaller chance of victory.  Even if Mitt Romney actually dropped out of the race for some bizarre reason, and Gingrich stayed in, it’s debatable that either Santorum or Gingrich could get to 1,144 from here. 

Romney, on the other hand, is sitting on 563 delegates (give or take a couple from various outstanding challenges and unresolved issues.)  He needs 581 of the remaining 1,099, which means he needs to take about 53 percent of them.  It’s possible for Santorum and Gingrich to prevent that from happening.  It’s tough to compute the exact odds, thanks to proportional allocation, and the biggest problem both Santorum and Gingrich will face in the weeks ahead: as their own paths to victory become implausible, it grows more difficult to attract both support and funding.

It’s one thing to campaign as a viable candidate who can win the primaries, but quite another to pitch a long-shot bid at provoking, and then winning, in a brokered convention.  A certain number of people who otherwise support a candidate will become reluctant to vote for him, when the chances of victory diminish beyond a certain point.  They don’t all run away, to be sure.  Even candidates who have actually dropped out of the race, such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, drew some votes in subsequent primaries.  But a certain critical segment of voters, and donors, is bound to shift away from last-ditch campaigns.

So what happens if the long-unthinkable brokered convention comes to pass, and Mitt Romney rolls in with, say, 900 to 1000 delegates, while Santorum gets 400 or so votes in the first round… and Gingrich has 135?  Is he somehow going to give a speech, or a debate performance (he says he wants one at the convention) that will erase those totals and sway the second round to him? 

It would be awesome if Gingrich could pull it off, but among other problems, such a choice would rob the Republican Party of the sole advantage they would gain, fighting from the unfavorable terrain of a brokered convention: a fresh start.  The one good thing to emerge from such a process, assuming Romney couldn’t win over enough support to push his not-quite-good-enough total over the top, would be introducing a wild card candidate, and forcing the Obama opposition teams to start from scratch – in their public efforts, if not their research, because they’d be pretty lazy if they haven’t done some groundwork on all the possible knight-in-shining-armor candidates who could ride onto the Tampa stage.

Newt Gingrich has plenty of reasons for staying in the race until the convention, and he might just have the means, but if he seriously believes the rationale he’s advancing for his latest campaign shakeup, the riches of his imagination dwarf the money in his campaign coffers.