Where does Newt Gingrich go after big losses Tuesday?
Newt Gingrich got trounced Tuesday. His plan has been built on surviving until Super Tuesday, where geography favors him more. But it's hard to see how Mr. Gingrich will be able to rebound.
The contests mean little when it comes to delegates. Missouri's primary was essentially a "beauty contest" before the state awards its delegates in caucuses next month, and the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota were nonbinding, though they'll influence the delegate selection.
But for a man who just weeks ago was coming off a big win in South Carolina and seemed to have all the momentum going his way, such a total loss was still bad news.
And while no delegates were awarded, the Tuesday results do matter significantly in terms of money, which Mr. Gingrich needs. Conservative Republican donors who funded Gingrich when he seemed like the best chance to avoid a Romney nomination are now likely to turn to Rick Santorum, who with a sweep of Tuesday's contests now takes on the mantle of conservative "anti-Romney."
Gingrich's polling trends don't look good either. Since his peak right after the South Carolina primaries, he's been going steadily downhill, according to Gallup's daily rolling average. Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum, on the other hand, are climbing.
He also made some key tactical errors, and came across to viewers as angry and out-of-touch in his Nevada post-caucus press conference. (Gingrich opted for the press conference rather than a concession speech, and failed to congratulate Romney on his win.) On Tuesday night, he opted not to speak at all.
Gingrich knew February would be a tough month for him. He had no organization and had done little campaigning in all four of the states voting in the first part of the month, and none of them was a natural fit for him. Even worse, the month is sparse on his strong suit: debates. There is just one debate scheduled on Feb. 22, in Arizona.
His plan has been built on surviving until Super Tuesday, where geography favors him more – Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all vote then, as does Ohio, where Gingrich is spending more time and money and believes he can be competitive.
And March, overall, is a more favorable month for Gingrich. After Super Tuesday on March 6, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana all hold primaries (among other states). The big prize that Gingrich is gunning for is Texas on April 3 (unless it's delayed due to pending redistricting litigation).
"I run a campaign which twice now has made me the front-runner and I suspect will again by the Texas primary or so," Gingrich told reporters after his Nevada loss.
The problem is surviving until those primaries. In the fast-paced world of Republican primaries, a month is an eternity – and a long time for Santorum to be reaping the donations and press coverage from his victories. Given that Gingrich's biggest liabilities are his lack of money, discipline, and organization, it's hard to see how he'll rebuild those in time to capitalize on the more fertile Southern terrain where his message resonates best.
He's been heavily reliant on his Super PAC funders, particularly casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his family, who have donated $10 million just in the past few months. But at some point, as a Gingrich candidacy seems less and less likely, that support could dry up. And he has few backers among the Republican establishment – or even among other influential conservatives.
Gingrich, known for his tenacity, has vowed to fight on. He spent Wednesday in Ohio, where he hopes to be competitive, and was likely looking forward to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) later this week, which will give a prime speaking opportunity to the audience he most needs to convince of his viability. He plans a swing through Georgia next week, as well as fundraisers in California.
The person who may be happiest that Gingrich intends to stay in as long as possible? Mitt Romney. As long as Gingrich is there to get some votes, it will be harder for Santorum to cobble together enough "anti-Romney" votes from conservatives to defeat him.
In her Right Turn blog Wednesday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote, "It was a dismal night for Newt Gingrich. If his Romney-hatred is deep will he get out and endorse Santorum? Ironically, Romney probably hopes his nemesis sticks around, taking up 15 percent or so of the not-Romney vote."