Before the full results from Alabama and Mississippi were available last night, Rachel asked Republican strategist Steve Schmidt if Newt Gingrich can remain a viable candidate if he failed to win either primary.
“No,” Schmidt said. “The race will be in the final stages for him, and he’ll have some tough decisions to make in the days ahead. He’s talked about putting together a ‘Southern strategy’ to remain viable. That means he has to win these states, not come in second, not come in third.”
The “Southern strategy” was not, on its face, ridiculous. Gingrich – formerly of Georgia, now a resident of Virginia – could plausibly argue up until recently that he was the strongest Republican presidential candidate in the GOP’s strongest region. This, in turn, created an incentive for the former Speaker to stick around, taking advantage of this geographic edge.
That argument is now discredited. He’s won two primaries in the South, including his former home state, but Gingrich has also lost Southern contests in Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Gingrich’s own campaign characterized yesterday’s primaries as “must win,” precisely because of their role in the campaign’s regional plan.
And what happens when a candidate loses must-win contests? As a rule, they go home.
Complicating matters, John Harwood noted last night that a source close to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate keeping Gingrich’s campaign afloat, believes the donor has “written his last check.” Without Adelson’s checkbook, the former Speaker simply will not have the resources to stick around.
Last night, Gingrich suggested he just doesn’t care, and will keep competing anyway. The decision, however, may not entirely be his to make – as Jonathan Bernstein explained, conservative leaders may demand his exit, and Gingrich “may not mind getting defeated, but he surely would mind if they threatened his speaking spots on Fox News, conservative conferences, and other entryways to money and status.”
There’s also the very real possibility that Gingrich sticks around, but the political world simply ceases to care. He might remain a candidate on paper, in case the other candidates implode, but without support or resources, he would fade into the background.
Either way, at this point, Gingrich is a lot like Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense” – he’s gone, but he just doesn’t seem to know it yet.