After failing in his "must-win" Southern states on Tuesday, Newt Gingrich headed to Chicago to rally supporters in advance of Tuesday's primary in Illinois. Unfortunately for the former Speaker, only 75 people showed up. It's been that kind of month for the candidate.
The Gingrich campaign has rallied twice before, but the air has left this balloon and no one, not even those close to the candidate, seriously believes it can be reinflated.
And if Gingrich isn't going to be the Republican presidential nominee, a growing number of conservatives want to know exactly why he's sticking around.
A growing number of Republicans are calling for Newt Gingrich to drop out of the presidential race to hasten the selection of a nominee and turn the country's attention to the fall campaign against President Obama. [...]"There won't be a lot of public pronouncements, but there will be a lot of private phone calls beginning today," said conservative strategist Keith Appell, who is supporting Santorum. "As much as Newt may feel that he should stay in, his campaign is really living on borrowed time." [Update: Appell emails to note that he and his firm are not supporting any specific candidate.]Richard Viguerie, another prominent Republican supporting Santorum, said Wednesday that he is "urging conservatives" to pressure Gingrich to step aside.
Part of the larger problem is that Gingrich has fared so poorly of late, the circumstances themselves become self-defeating. No one in the political world, including Republicans, is asking, "How can Gingrich get back on track?" Rather, the main question being raised is, "How long is this guy going to drag this process out?"
Once everyone involved in the race is convinced that Gingrich is finished -- and they are convinced because he is finished -- it becomes impossible to raise money, generate excitement, and recruit volunteers. Who wants to rally behind a candidate whose campaign is on a national death watch? No one.
So, what's it going to take for the Black Knight to realize he's lost? There are several dynamics to keep an eye on.
1. Will Gingrich hurt his post-campaign career? It's easy to forget, but Gingrich may not feel any urgency to quit because he doesn't have anything else to do. The man doesn't have a day job to return to, and the campaign keeps him busy while giving him a spotlight. But if he starts to enrage conservatives with his vanity exercise, Gingrich threatens post-campaign opportunities. He'll need to think ahead about those speaking contracts.
2. Will Santorum offer him a deal? Only Gingrich knows for sure why he's running a futile effort, but it's possible he's waiting for a nice offer. If Rick Santorum quietly offers him a cabinet post, for example, it might be persuasive.
3. Will Gingrich backers wait indefinitely? Gingrich's staff resigned en masse once, and if aides are convinced he's hurting the party and their reputation, they could conceivably do so again, forcing the former Speaker's hand. Watch for those close to the candidate to start dishing to reporters about their concerns. As for Sheldon Adelson, the only man keeping the campaign going, it "remains unclear" whether he the billionaire casino magnate will write another check.
4. Will conservative leaders pick up the phone? There are several reports today about prominent leaders on the right complaining about Gingrich splitting the right, but those quoted haven't reached out to him directly, urging him to do the responsible thing. If that changes, and Gingrich's phone doesn't stop ringing, he may find the pressure intolerable.