Two weeks ago, a top adviser to Newt Gingrich told me that his candidate would stay in the Republican race through the convention, regardless of the outcome in South Carolina. Gingrich reiterated those plans in comments to reporters over the weekend.
“I will go all the way to the convention,” he said. “I expect to win the nomination.”
It could be just the kind of bold talk candidates often use to bolster flagging campaigns, contrived optimism designed to give their supporters hope and incentive to keep fighting. Or perhaps he means it. After all, Gingrich has been twice declared dead in this election cycle and, as he eagerly points out, he’s leading in three national polls.
If another resurrection is coming, it didn’t start Sunday. After a week of shaky debate performances and slipping poll numbers in Florida, Gingrich’s appearances on political talk shows Sunday should give his supporters more reason for concern: In attempting to explain his bad week, Gingrich provided answers that directly undermine his claim to be the strongest candidate to take on Barack Obama in a general election.
On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Gingrich about his tough week. The former House speaker played the victim, noting that he was being outspent and complaining that Mitt Romney has “an amazing ability to raise money from Wall Street” and is willing to engage in “carpetbombing his opponent” and “tearing down his opponent.”
Similarly, on Meet the Press, David Gregory asked Gingrich about his ineffective performances in the two debates in Florida last week. Gingrich seemed to affirm the premise of the question by saying that he’d been caught off-guard by Romney’s willingness to be dishonest. Gingrich, first elected to office in 1978, said that he’d never before seen such undisguised mendacity in a political debate.
Really? For a man who did battle with Bill Clinton for four years that strains credulity. But even if one were inclined to accept Gingrich’s claims on their face they raise an obvious concern about his ability to win in November: Whatever he’s getting from Mitt Romney, he would get in greater volume from Barack Obama.
His campaign is struggling in Florida because of Romney’s ability to raise money and run lots of ads? There is no question that Obama will have more money than his Republican opponent and that his ads will be at least as tough as Romney’s. If Gingrich cannot prevail against Romney, how will he beat a better-funded Romney?
He cannot win a debate against an opponent who mischaracterizes his views and misrepresents his past? Does he expect Obama will run his critiques by PolitiFact before he makes them?
Gingrich has done best when he’s been on message and talking about substance. So anytime he’s not doing that and allows himself to talk about process, he’s at a disadvantage. And it’s worse when he plays the victim. Think of Obama as a bigger, richer, tougher Romney. If Gingrich is helpless in the face of Romney’s attacks, why would voters think he can beat Obama?