Newt Gingrich came to CPAC last week to rally the conservative activist base to his campaign. In my estimation, Gingrich did as well as he could possibly have done in his speech, but the support it generated at CPAC as reflected in the straw poll vote was disappointing, at best. Today, National Review tells Gingrich to take the advice he has handed out to others in the race and exit forthwith:
At the moment Rick Santorum appears to be overtaking Newt Gingrich as the principal challenger to Mitt Romney. Santorum has won more contests than Gingrich (who has won only one), has more delegates, and leads him in the polls. In at least one poll, he also leads Romney. It isn’t yet a Romney–Santorum contest, but it could be headed that way.
We hope so. Gingrich’s verbal and intellectual talents should make him a resource for any future Republican president. But it would be a grave mistake for the party to make someone with such poor judgment and persistent unpopularity its presidential nominee. It is not clear whether Gingrich remains in the race because he still believes he could become president next year or because he wants to avenge his wounded pride: an ambiguity that suggests the problem with him as a leader. When he led Santorum in the polls, he urged the Pennsylvanian to leave the race. On his own arguments the proper course for him now is to endorse Santorum and exit.
Of course, Santorum didn’t take Gingrich’s advice at the time and ended up rebounding in the race. Gingrich might still do the same. However, given Gingrich’s low favorability numbers and an apparent funding issue, it seems less and less likely that Gingrich can catch lightning in a bottle a third time in this race.
Oddly, even though National Review’s editors ask Gingrich to withdraw, they don’t go as far as to make a choice for themselves. They certainly speak highly of Santorum and the integrity with which he has conducted himself in the race. They don’t speak as well of Mitt Romney, whom they call a “transactional politician rather than a charismatic one,” and blast him for insincerity in his attacks on Santorum:
Romney is trying to win the nomination by pulverizing his rivals. His hope is that enthusiasm will follow when he takes on Obama in the summer and fall. But his attacks on Santorum have been lame, perhaps because they are patently insincere. (Does anyone believe that Romney truly thinks poorly of Santorum’s votes to raise the debt ceiling?)
Romney and his supporters could prevail in a “carpet bombing” campaign against Gingrich (to use Gingrich’s terminology) because Gingrich had so many areas to attack that would damage him with conservatives. Santorum presents a different challenge, and another carpet-bombing campaign on Santorum could end up backfiring on Romney as conservatives react to the negativity rather than the attacks themselves. NR’s prescription of embracing the transactional — tell conservatives what they’ll win with a Romney presidency, Tim! — might be a better approach, and one that emphasizes Romney’s executive skills and ability to deliver in a general election, even if it won’t win loyalty and enthusiasm. But it might be even better if National Review made its own choice at the same time that they ask one of the candidates to narrow the choices down for voters in future contests.