So Newt was right. Him dropping out to “help” Santorum would backfire by boosting Romney’s chances of clinching a majority of delegates before the convention.

Second look at Newt staying in the race to gratify his delusions of grandeur about being chosen as a consensus nominee at a brokered convention?

Some conservative Republicans have called for Gingrich to drop out of the race on the assumption that conservative primary voters would then unite behind Santorum as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney. But Gallup data indicate that Gingrich voters would not be likely to coalesce behind Santorum, suggesting that factors other than candidate ideology may be attracting voters to Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney.

Gallup can simulate Republican preferences without Gingrich in the race by removing Gingrich votes and reassigning them to his voters’ second-choice candidate. The results of this procedure suggest that national GOP preferences would change little if Gingrich dropped out. The reconfigured preferences show Romney getting 40% of the vote and Santorum getting 33%. That seven-percentage-point Romney lead is essentially the same as the six-point (34% to 28%) Romney lead in March 8-15 interviewing with Gingrich support included.

Romney takes 40 percent of Newt’s voters versus 39 percent for Santorum. As noted yesterday, when Fox News polled a hypothetical head to head race between Romney and Santorum a few days ago, they found Mitt leading 49/44. Has there been any poll to date showing a surge for Team Sweater Vest if Gingrich drops out? If not, then the best argument for Newt quitting isn’t that it would help stop Romney but rather that by staying in he’s needlessly impeding the coronation of a candidate who is, unfortunately, inevitable. If you want to beat Obama and think there’s no way realistically that Romney, as the leader in delegates, won’t be chosen at a brokered convention, then your best option now is to hope that the field clears ASAP so that he can concentrate on the general.

Newt, of course, is not in the “Romney is inevitable” camp:

It’s a complicated bet. But they believe that in a contested-convention scenario, and perhaps only then, the usual presidential metrics — money, momentum — will mean little, and it’ll come down to a damaged moderate versus a tested warrior.

“Newt is no shrinking violet,” says Katon Dawson, an adviser to Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super PAC. “His whole life, nothing has every come easy to him. I’ve known him for many years. He’s having a good time running for president. He’s not going to end this.”

“Remember, these conventions are odd animals,” Dawson says. “If nobody gets this thing on the first ballot, all hell will start breaking loose. If you start to think about who wins debates, and then think about Gingrich getting up there, in that moment, talking about his life and why he should be president of the United States, you can see it.”

Explain to me why the guy who finishes a distant third would ever be considered as a compromise choice at a brokered convention. The only argument I can see is if you had someone who looked extremely electable against Obama compared to the top two vote-getters. Imagine Pawlenty, say, in Newt’s position here; moderates in Romney’s camp and social cons in Santorum’s camp might see him as an acceptable alternative given that he’s sufficiently bland to turn the general election into a pure referendum on Obama. Needless to say, that’s not what we have in Gingrich:

The numbers for all three are lame compared to McCain’s(!) but if enthusiasm is the name of the game — and it would be after a brokered convention that threatened to shatter the party — then the third-place candidate here is your last choice, not your first. In fact, these numbers are tepid enough that if the primary drags on and enthusiasm for all three sinks accordingly, it makes the possibility of a dark-horse nominee marginally higher. How much worse could a Christie or Ryan do here compared to the rest?

Exit question via the Atlantic: Has Romney run a bad campaign? I honestly don’t know how to answer it. On the one hand, he’s got the best organization and the best fundraising by a country mile. On the other hand, he’s facing two has-beens running barebones operations and is still struggling to win. On the other other hand, it’s astounding that a candidate as widely disliked and distrusted by the base as Romney has the pole position on the nomination. He’s actually done better than McCain in a majority of the primaries held so far. The only reason he’s off the pace in terms of delegates is because, as Jay Cost explains, the GOP delegate calendar was frontloaded in 2008 (replete with some early winner-take-all states) whereas this year it’s a slower, steadier distribution. To borrow a March Madness analogy, if a three seed plays a ten seed in the Final Four, leads wire to wire, and ends up winning by, say, five points, did they play a “good game”? Granted, they didn’t have to play Duke and they shouldn’t have had to sweat for the win, but they got it done under pressure.