By Robert Schlesinger |
So long as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's end goal is to win the 2012 Republican nomination, and not systematically destroy the general election chances of former Gov. Mitt Romney, then the former House speaker should absolutely stay in the race and keep mining for delegates. Even after enduring the bruising battle in Florida, Mitt Romney concedes that "[a] competitive primary does not divide us, it [better] prepares" the eventual Republican nominee to deal more effectively with the Obama campaign juggernaut.
As the Republican field departs Florida and heads for Nevada, one could plausibly make the case that Gingrich has been, up to this point, the most valuable candidate in the GOP primary field, particularly over the last 10 days.
It took Gingrich's decisive victory in South Carolina for Mitt Romney to turn in back-to-back solid debate performance (kudos to Romney debate coach Brett O'Donnell as well). Can Romney be more consistent at the debate podium and not get flustered at all the wrong times? Only time will tell, but whatever improvement Romney has made is a direct result of Gingrich's goading and superior debating skills. Let us also not forget that Gingrich's presence in the race has also caused former Sen. Rick Santorum to up his game at the podium as well.
Beyond the debate halls, Gingrich got so far under Romney's skin in South Carolina that Team Romney was forced to learn how to conduct an effective negative campaign that delivered significant results (see, Florida 2012 GOP primary). While going negative a majority of the time is not a winning long-term strategy, it certainly toughened up Mitt Romney as a candidate. And Team Romney will certainly need to draw on this skill again in the general election, should he win the nomination.
What remains to be seen is whether Mitt Romney can build a strong case for why a broad coalition of Republican primary voters should support him or if he will continue to spend a good chunk of his time focusing on Mr. Gingrich's demons at the expense of building his own positive storyline. Electability and business experience seem a reasonable opening argument, but they are unlikely to provide the spark that will convince independents to swing away from the president or motivate the conservative base to leave no vote behind. If Romney can turn the energy that Gingrich brings to the fray into a disciplined campaign against President Obama, then he stands a good chance of being the second president who will have found Gingrich a useful foil.
About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
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