Newt Gingrich and the Limits of Unlimited Campaign Cash

Sheldon Adelson’s millions kept Gingrich alive, but they couldn’t buy him the nomination.

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Money can, and has, fueled the campaigns of candidates who otherwise might have faltered a long time ago. And money may well be what forces a struggling candidate out of the GOP race.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had campaign trouble from the start. He nearly was forced out of the race last year, undergoing a huge staff shake-up. He endured some public relations fiascos, including the disclosures that he and his wife Callista had a half million dollar revolving credit account at Tiffany’s. He was dogged by episodes from his past, including the ethics investigation of him when he was in Congress, and the fact that he resigned both his speakership and his Georgia seat in Congress after a poor 1998 showing by Republicans in the midterm elections.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Newt Gingrich.]

Then, Gingrich came back, casting himself as the intellectual choice (an interesting strategy at a time when anti-intellectualism is celebrated among a substantial portion of the electorate). He did well in debates, and he started to look like he might have a chance. He won an early contest in South Carolina and then in his native Georgia. But after that, Gingrich just hasn’t been able to get traction.

In an earlier time, a lack of cash might have forced Gingrich out a long time ago. But with the advent of super PACS—especially as Gingrich’s Las Vegas benefactor, Sheldon Adelson, has dumped more than $16 million into a super PAC supporting Gingrich—the former speaker was able to stay alive.

[Check out our collection of political cartoons on Super PACs.]

But now, Adelson, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, is sending signals that he might help out the super PAC backing front-runner former Gov. Mitt Romney. That may not be a sign that Adelson likes Romney or has lost affection for Gingrich, but that’s not how big donors operate. They want to have access to the winner, and Adelson—who hosted a dinner recently that included Romney supporters as guests—may be the campaign canary in the coal mine for Gingrich.

Gingrich has now scaled back his campaign and fired some staff. He’s also charging some supporters $50 for a photo, according to the National Journal. That could be a regroup ahead of another resurgence, but more likely, given the fact that the primary season is half over, it’s a sign that Gingrich is on his way out. Adelson’s millions kept Gingrich alive, but they couldn’t buy him the nomination. And while Americans are right to be worried about the impact of big money in a campaign, there is some solace in that.

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