I get what Eric Fehrnstrom means, but does the Romney campaign really want to invoke memories of 2008 as a pressure point? Especially when in the same interview, Fehrnstrom talks about hitting “a reset button” after the primary to engage centrists. That’s going to bring back a few bad memories:
At the time, John McCain did not have the delegates he needed to clinch the nomination but he was clearly on a path to doing that. The math was very challenging for Mitt Romney. And he made the decision that at that time, the country being at war in Iraq, it was important for John McCain to begin to rally the party behind him so he could prepare himself for the fall election campaign. Mitt Romney stepped aside. Now, in Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, these are both decent, honorable men who have run good campaigns. They are good Americans. They are good Republicans. And ultimately, I’m confident they’ll make a decision that’s not only right for their party, but right for them. …
I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.
Yeah … that’ll convince the conservative base to throw in with Mitt.
That argument won’t work on Rick Santorum either, who is still winning contests, although not as many as Romney. If Santorum wins the Louisiana primary, he won’t have any reason to get out before April’s nine primaries. He can claim that conservative voters still aren’t backing Romney and deserve a choice rather than a rubber stamp, and that it’s Romney’s responsibility to show he can win in the South. However, that argument will dissipate entirely if Romney manages to win in Louisiana on Saturday, which is still a distinct possibility, especially with Jeb Bush’s endorsement today.
Fehrnstrom’s point is better taken with Gingrich, however. Newt finished last in Illinois behind Ron Paul, and didn’t bother to put up a fight. He’s also staking what little he has left on Louisiana, but with two losses in the South last week, he faces long odds in Louisiana for a game-changer. The Southern Strategy has come a cropper, as the National Journal reports today:
Once again, Newt Gingrich was not present in a state where Republicans went to the polls. This time, as voters in Illinois were handing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a solid victory, the former House Speaker was nearly 500 miles away in Louisiana, where he ended his public schedule late in the afternoon and chose to do an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity rather than hold an election night rally.
Calls for Gingrich to end his campaign are bound to increase after his last-place showing in Illinois, where he was only able to muster 8 percent of the vote. He made his usual pledge on the Hannity show to stay in the race, but his fundraising is drying up and his schedule is lightening, and Republican National Committee rules raise questions about what he could accomplish by pressing on to the August convention in Tampa.
Gingrich told Hannity he had chosen to focus on the South, where he believed he had a better chance of winning. His only victories in 33 contests to date have been in South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. But his Southern strategy didn’t work in Alabama and Mississippi, which he lost earlier this month after saying he had to win one or both to be credible. And as he stumped across the northern part of the Bayou State on Tuesday, the former House speaker did not predict a victory in the upcoming weekend primary. Instead, he talked up the potential for collecting convention delegates here.
“We have a real chance to pick up delegates here,” he told a crowd at a morning stop at a café in Shreveport. By the afternoon he had stepped up the rhetoric just a bit for an audience at a hotel in Monroe, telling them he thought he had a good chance to “win a lot of delegates here.”
That’s basically the Ron Paul strategy on a slightly grander scale, only without the agenda-building motive Paul has to march to the convention. Gingrich’s campaign is running on fumes as it is, which has already translated into a “noticeably lighter” schedule this month. Without any wins, he will have no money to campaign soon enough. Other than a dog-in-the-manger strategy aimed at Romney, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Gingrich to continue his quest.
Nothing will change before Saturday’s primary in Louisiana, but I’d expect the race to change significantly in the ten days between then and the next primary. How much it changes really depends on whether Romney can close the deal with a win in Louisiana.
Update: I wrote much the same thing for CNN after last night’s results:
Santorum has a four-point lead in a poll conducted for a New Orleans television station last week, and can be expected to fight hard to finish March with a win. Romney will almost certainly spend significant amounts of time and money looking for a knockout blow.
After that, though, we have 10 days before the next primaries on April 3, the longest slack period in six weeks. Gingrich, whose fundraising cratered in February, may take the time to reconsider his quixotic quest. If Gingrich gets out, or even if the low fundraising totals merely sideline him, Santorum will have a chance of consolidating conservatives in the remaining states and give Romney the one-on-one fight he desperately needs.
It may be too late for Santorum to beat Romney, but it’s unlikely that even a loss in Louisiana would persuade Santorum not to try.
I think the “Etch-a-Sketch” line will make it easier for Santorum to stay in, too.