Gingrich Can't Win If He Doesn't Play
Gingrich's only shot is to force a floor fight in Tampa
March 14, 2012
The answer to this question depends on Gingrich's goal. If he wants to secure the Republican nomination, then he should not get out. You can't win if you don't play. At this stage, his only chance of winning the nomination is to force a floor fight at the convention by denying any candidate the necessary majority of convention delegates, and then somehow convince those same delegates that he is best equipped to defeat President Obama in the fall. That's a long shot, but it's his only chance.
If, however, Gingrich's goal is to prevent Romney from capturing the nomination, in favor of any more conservative candidate, then he has a calculation to make. Getting out would arguably allow the more conservative primary and caucus voters who are discontented with Romney to coalesce behind one candidate, presumably beating Romney 2-to-1 in later races, assuming the lion's share of Gingrich's supporters flood to Rick Santorum. On the other hand, playing a tag-team game with Santorum against Romney might be a more efficient way of allocating delegates in such a way as to deny Romney that necessary majority—again, forcing a floor fight at the convention.
There's no sure way to know what Gingrich should do in this prevent defense option, because the necessary calculations are too uncertain. For most of the past 40 years, the nomination race in both parties has not been about delegate acquisition but about outlasting opponents in a front-loaded nomination calendar. Four years ago, the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton demonstrated that delegate allocation rules still matter, and we seem to be seeing a similar dynamic at play in the GOP contest this year.
All of which means we need to see different reporting of the results by the news media. The dominant story from yesterday's contests was that Romney came in third in Alabama and Mississippi. But if we are now counting delegates one-by-one, the dominant news story should have been that Romney ended the evening winning more delegates than Santorum or Gingrich, thanks to Hawaii and American Samoa. Even in Mississippi, Santorum won only one more delegate than Romney.
The blitzkrieg typical of presidential nomination races has turned into a war of attrition, and in that war Gingrich can still play a central role.