There is much more to general elections than debates, and there is much more to the presidency than giving speeches. On an intellectual level Gingrich knows this, but he has little experience either in contesting elections with large numbers of voters of varying views or in running large organizations. Romney has executive experience, unlike Gingrich or Santorum, and in past elections voters have seemed to value that experience. But at least Santorum, like Romney, has been elected to statewide office before, and like Romney has shown himself able to reach beyond the Republican base in doing so. Santorum’s record in this regard beats Romney’s, since Santorum won statewide in Pennsylvania twice. Only Gingrich has never been elected to office from anything larger than a congressional district; only Gingrich has never had to reach beyond the Republican base vote to win an election.
Gingrich has been a nationally known figure for a long time: when the economy was booming and when it has been in a slump; when Republicans were on top and when the public disliked them; when the national mood was sunny and when it was sour. Amid all the tumult of the last 18 years there has been this constant: Gingrich has never been popular. Polls have never shown more than 43 percent of the public viewing him favorably at any point in his career. Gingrich backers say that he is inspiring. What he mostly seems to inspire is opposition.
It should go without saying that Gingrich also offers more material than the other candidates for Democrats to drive his numbers in the wrong direction. Any Republican nominee will draw criticism for being too biased toward the rich. Not every Republican nominee will be attacked for cruelty in his personal life.