Is Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign the worst ever?

Newt Gingrich's campaign was already sputtering before his top staff resigned en masse on Thursday. He's got some competition, though, for title of Worst Presidential Campaign Ever.

Jim Cole/AP
Republican presidential hopeful, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gestures while speaking during a Town Hall style meeting at the Derry Medical Center in Derry, N.H., in this May 25 file photo.

Newt Gingrich’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination is in tatters after the resignation of his entire senior campaign staff. The mutiny stems from differences over strategy, according to the ex-aides and Mr. Gingrich himself.

Campaign manager Rob Johnson and other staffers wanted Gingrich to spend most of his time in important primary states such as New Hampshire, meeting voters. They also felt he should spend more time raising money, because cash was tight, and they objected to his recent decision to spend two weeks on a vacation cruise of the Greek isles.

“I think the world of him,” Scott Rials, a longtime Gingrich staffer who was among those who quit, told the Associated Press. “But at the end of the day, we just could not see a clear path to win, and there was a question of commitment.”

The Gingrich campaign was already sputtering prior to Thursday’s stunning developments. Loose talk and bad fortune had dogged the bid, from Gingrich’s criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal (the ex-speaker of the House called it “right-wing social engineering,” then insisted he did not mean it), to revelations that he and his wife had a $500,000 revolving line of credit with Tiffany’s, to the glitter dumped on him at a campaign event by a protester. Stuff has just happened.

Is it the worst presidential campaign ever? Well, maybe not ever – but in recent memory, it is close. Here are some other comparably ill-fated attempts to win the White House:

Joe Biden. Do you remember that Vice President Joe Biden ran against his current boss for the 2008 Democratic nomination? If you don’t, you’re not alone. On the day he officially announced his bid, he said of Mr. Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean,” and it was all downhill from there. After that Mr. Biden struggled to raise money and draw voters to his rallies. He never rose above single digits in polls of Democratic voters’ presidential preferences.

Phil Gramm. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas was an early front-runner for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination. He had a lot of cash, name recognition, and status within the party. But perhaps he made a mistake when, in kicking off his effort, he said, “I have the most reliable friend you can have in politics, and that is ready money.” Voters did not like the implication they could be bought: Gramm lost the Louisiana caucus to Pat Buchanan in February '96, then placed fifth in the Iowa caucuses. He dropped out before the New Hampshire primary.

Al Haig. Al Haig had the kind of résumé you’d think would lead to success in national politics. He’d served as an Army general, rising to command NATO. He was White House chief of staff for Presidents Nixon and Ford. He was secretary of State for President Reagan. So in 1988, Haig decided to run for the GOP nomination himself – and tanked. Voters never forgot his shaky televised declaration that “I’m in charge, here at the White House” on the day Reagan was shot. (He wasn’t.) Like Biden, he never got more than single-digit poll numbers in national surveys.

Gary Hart. Remember when the dashing young senator from Colorado, a self-described military reformer, was the up-and-coming man of Democratic politics? We don’t either. But there was such a time. In 1987, Mr. Hart, by then an ex-senator, announced his candidacy for the 1988 Democratic nomination for president. Reporters picked up rumors that he was unfaithful his wife, but he laughed them off, saying that if scribes wanted to follow him, they’d be bored. So they did, and they weren’t. The Miami Herald on May 5, 1987, published a story about a young woman – later identified as model Donna Rice –spending the night at Hart’s Washington townhouse. He dropped out of the race a few weeks later, only to reenter it in December, saying that voters should decide his fate. They did: He got only 4 percent in the New Hampshire primary, and his bid was over.


Newt Gingrich talked about Medicare and being a Washington outsider, at a recent Monitor-sponsored breakfast.

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