Mark Halperin reports today that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have “met face-to-face at least twice in the last few weeks and have also had some very long phone calls recently.” The two Republican presidential candidates have reportedly talked about “the path forward,” and possible “unity” efforts to “stop” Mitt Romney.
The report coincides with Santorum’s ongoing talks with conservative leaders, who met with the former senator today to explore “how to persuade Newt Gingrich to drop out.”
The conservative leaders met with Mr. Santorum and his top aides in northern Virginia as Mr. Santorum himself faces questions about the viability of his campaign. The conservative leaders sought the meeting, according to people familiar with it.
As the race narrows and Mitt Romney looks more and more like the inevitable nominee, several conservative leaders have said they still support Mr. Santorum. But Mr. Santorum has been losing some important states by small margins – in some cases, by the amount that Mr. Gingrich has been siphoning off.
The prospect that Mr. Gingrich might draw enough votes from Mr. Santorum in Pennsylvania – Mr. Santorum’s home state – on April 24 to cost him the primary has given new urgency to the task of getting him out of the race.
This strikes me as an odd strategy. Gingrich is not Santorum’s principal problem right now – the former Speaker has already laid off most of his staff and largely stopped campaigning. Gingrich has empty campaign coffers, abysmal poll numbers, precious few delegates, a string of embarrassing primary losses, and no credible hopes of getting back on track.
I can appreciate Santorum’s search for a new advantage, and there’s even some degree of logic here – if Gingrich withdrew, and his backers shifted to Santorum, then maybe the former senator’s standing would start improving. If this were February, and the race were still fluid, I’d probably find the talks more compelling.
But that train left the station a long time ago. Even if one assumes every single Gingrich supporter voted for Santorum, he still would have lost every primary Mitt Romney has won since Super Tuesday, including Wisconsin, Maryland, D.C., Illinois, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.
Santorum’s focused on the wrong problem – he’s failing because the frontrunner is wrapping up the nomination and the party establishment has grudgingly accepted Romney as the nominee, not because Gingrich is dividing the right. If the former Speaker quit tonight and endorsed Santorum, the race wouldn’t change in any fundamental way.