Conservative leaders, wishing for a Reagan clone but stuck with flawed Republican presidential candidates in 2012, are readying to back Newt Gingrich, especially if he gets caught in a prolonged primary fight with Mitt Romney, according to sources. [Rivals Put Gingrich in Crosshairs.]
"If there are three choices, [President] Obama, Mitt and Newt, conservatives would have to go with Newt," said a conservative leader.
Some 60 conservative titans, called together by longtime leader and fundraiser Richard Viguerie, met with Gingrich on Tuesday but didn't offer any endorsements afterward. In fact, many suggested that they might withhold endorsing this year because they don't trust Romney and are jittery about Gingrich.
However, on his ConservativeHQ.com blog today, Viguerie said that an endorsement of Gingrich might be necessary in a primary fight.
"Due to the proportional allocation of delegates won in elections held before April 1—and the loss of delegates by states such as Florida, that moved their primaries and violated the protections guaranteed to Iowa and New Hampshire—the nomination is likely to be up in the air well past March and possibly into the summer," he wrote. "If that is the case, a candidate such as Mitt Romney, with superior fund raising and the ability to hold a mere twenty percent of the vote in every primary, may yet bring movement conservative leaders off the sidelines."
Conservative critics of Gingrich have not held back their complaints that he has sometimes wandered off their reservation. [Vote for your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination.]
But as he proved this week at the Tuesday meeting, Gingrich is known to all of the leaders and they feel that he listens to them.
Several in attendance said that unlike most of the other candidates, notably Romney, they feel "comfortable" with Gingrich. "He knew the people there, most on a first name basis. There's a lot to be said for having been in the trenches together over the years," said one. Another added: "We aren't endorsing yet, but clearly we are more in line with Newt than some of the others like Romney."
A third said that Romney hasn't wooed the conservative Old Guard like Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have, and that seems to anger many. "This is a group that is more inclined to go with someone they know," said the meeting attendee.
Since hosting the meeting, requested by Gingrich, Viguerie has been suggesting that conservatives are closest to Gingrich.
"Movement conservatives were with Newt Gingrich at the beginning of his career and helped propel him to the speakership in the 90's—second in line to the presidency. Some at the December 7 meeting undoubtedly feel, as I do, that he subsequently supported causes not consistent with our conservative principles. But now, Newt Gingrich is back, and conservatives are wrestling with the decision on whether to join the great ideas-based crusade he proposes, support another candidate, or remain (as many are today) sitting on the sidelines of the Republican primaries," he wrote on Thursday.
"I have yet to endorse a candidate for president, and I don't know when or if I will endorse one of the contenders. But Newt Gingrich showed a good deal of courage—and a lot of political savvy—in requesting to meet with the leaders of the conservative movement at this important juncture in the presidential campaign," he added.
Today Viguerie, one of the conservative movements biggest funders and longest-serving members, went further. He wrote:
"To win in 2012, Republicans must hold together the traditional triad of economic, social and defense conservatives, and add in the newly energized constitutional conservatives of the Tea Party movement. This four-part coalition will be unbeatable in the Republican primary elections and in the fall general election—if it coalesces behind a candidate.
"In large measure, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has ignored this dynamic because he has been hoping to achieve the nomination without movement conservative support, and thus free himself to govern as a business-oriented moderate. Consequently, he has been stuck in the low to mid-twenties in the polls for the entire five years he has been running for president.
"As conservative leaders sit on the sidelines, other Republican candidates, such as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have risen and fallen in the polls as they withered under media scrutiny or been examined and found wanting by grassroots members of the new four-part conservative coalition. Can one of them come back, or will a late entry candidate arise to displace Gingrich? Only time will tell.
"For now, despite Newt Gingrich's self-acknowledged personal shortcomings and deviations from movement conservative principles, his methodical efforts to solidify the four elements of the new conservative coalition behind his candidacy appear to be succeeding."