Too good to check: Gingrich and Santorum considered teaming up to defeat Romney

posted at 12:41 pm on March 22, 2013 by Allahpundit

Sounds like a dream ticket: Gingrich, with his famously poor favorable ratings, and Santorum, a punching bag for Team O’s Akin-fueled “war on women” attacks on social conservatism. Joshua Green, who broke this news for Business Week, previews the media take on the ticket from an alternate dimension in which they beat Romney:

And so, once again, we’re forced to revisit one of the most dispiriting realities of Campaign 2012. Namely, Romney probably was the best we could have done.

Why didn’t Gingrich/Santorum fusion happen? Egos, of course.

The discussions between the two camps commenced in early February, just after Gingrich got trounced in Florida. Brabender called members of the Gingrich brain trust, hoping they could persuade Gingrich to drop out and endorse Santorum, who was rising in the polls. “I’ll tell you this,” says Brabender, “If Gingrich had dropped out at the right time, Santorum would have been the nominee.” Brabender wasn’t short on moxie: He wanted Gingrich to declare in the middle of a nationally televised debate that he was dropping out and endorsing Santorum. “I couldn’t write an ad to match the political theater that would have created,” he says.

Gingrich had other ideas. He proposed that both men join forces but remain in the race, each concentrating on the states where he matched up best against Romney. Gingrich thought he could carry Georgia, Delaware, Washington, and Wisconsin (from which his wife, Callista, hails). Santorum would focus on other states in the South and the upper Midwest. But there was a catch. “The appeal of a Unity Ticket was strength in numbers,” says Kellyanne Conway, Gingrich’s pollster. “The big question was, who was going to unify with whom? Who was going to be the sheriff and who was going to be the deputy?”

Gingrich thought that he belonged on top of the ticket. “Our reasoning,” says Walker, “is that we had won a major primary at that point [South Carolina] and people like Rick Perry were coming on board. Perry had just endorsed Newt.”

To Santorum’s team, however, the Gingrich campaign was a sinking ship, and their own man was the obvious choice to lead the ticket. “At the end of the day,” says Brabender, “we won 11 states and tied two others. He won two states, which makes it only logical that Rick was the one who had earned the right to go one-on-one with Romney.”

Read it all for tales of Newt, in vintage form, making “an elaborate historical argument” to Santorum that the senior figure should lead the ticket when the party is split. It sounds goofy in hindsight to think of him demanding the top spot when he faded so quickly and sharply after getting crushed in Florida, but Dave Weigel’s right that you need to pay attention to the timeline. Newt pulled off his big victory in South Carolina on January 21; he was routed in Florida on January 31, and then discussions with Santorum started happening a few days later. It wasn’t crazy at that point to think that Gingrich, who’d recently won a major state primary, should lead the ticket with Santorum in support. But then, the fact that Newt was eager to make a deal with a guy who had yet to see any clear-cut victories (Iowa was still in dispute) was surely proof enough to Santorum’s camp that Gingrich knew he couldn’t win. He was, in fact, a “sinking ship” after Florida and he knew it, and so did Santorum’s team. And don’t forget that the story of the primary campaign to that point had been that every challenger, including Herman Cain, spent a little time leading the polls. The powerful “Anybody but Romney” current among conservatives had led them to give everyone else a look; Santorum’s camp likely figured that their turn was coming now that Gingrich had gone bust, which ended up being true, so why should Santorum settle for number two? He was the last man standing.

At least there’s now a precedent for when Rand Paul and Bobby Jindal pull this on Rubio in 2016. Exit question: Reread the excerpt above and tell me, how exactly was Newt’s strategy of both of them staying in the race supposed to work? In theory, I guess, Santorum would tell his voters to support Newt in “Newt’s states” and Newt would tell his voters to support Santorum in “Santorum’s states.” But why would a voter do that if he didn’t know who was at the top of the ticket yet? And if Newt and Santorum had settled on a ticket with one of them at the top, what would be the point of both of them staying in the race? Just have the would-be VP nominee drop out and endorse the other guy.


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