By Teresa Welsh |
Even assuming former House Speaker Newt Gingrich cannot win the nomination outright, he strengthens the GOP by continuing the fight. He does so for at least three reasons. First, we have already seen in Florida how former Governor Romney upped his game in response to Gingrich's victory in South Carolina. Romney sharpened his talking points to explain his wealth in the context of defending capitalism; he addressed key weaknesses in his resume—particularly his tax records and time at Bain Capital; and he improved his debating skills. None of this would have happened without Gingrich's presence in the race. All of it will benefit Romney should he become the Republican nominee. By continuing the fight, Gingrich makes Romney a better candidate.
Second, Gingrich's candidacy is driven by more than his oversized ego. Voting patterns in South Carolina and Florida, and Gingrich's endorsements from Gov. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and former Gov. Sarah Palin,show that Newt is now the voice of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. As we saw in 2010, a fully mobilized Tea Party can have a huge impact on national elections. The struggle between Romney and Gingrich is really a struggle for the soul of the Republican Party. Republican establishment sentiment notwithstanding, it does the GOP little good to prematurely shut down that debate.
And that is the third reason why Gingrich's candidacy helps the GOP: He might be the stronger nominee. Newt's winning the GOP nomination is a long shot, to be sure. But it is clear that Romney still has not clinched the deal with the conservative Tea Party faction that forms a third of the GOP; Florida exit polls indicate Gingrich beat Romney among self-described evangelicals, strong Tea Party supporters, and very conservative voters. Until Romney proves he can win their support, Gingrich's candidacy should continue.
About Matthew Dickinson Professor at Middlebury College
Judson Phillips Founder of Tea Party Nation
Doug Heye Former Communications Director for the Republican National Committee
Ron Bonjean Former Chief of Staff for the Senate Republican Conference
Krystal Ball MSNBC Contributor and Former Democratic Nominee for Congress in the First District of Virginia