Decorah, IO—Newt Gingrich has chartered a bus to carry the former House Speaker and third wife Callista across Iowa in a final push for first-in-the-nation caucus votes.
But his campaign is not going anywhere. The new Public Policy Polling survey shows Congressman Ron Paul, the maverick libertarian from Texas whose disciplined campaign is the polar opposite of Gingrich’s, extending his lead, with 24 percent support. The Republican Republicans love to hate, Mitt Romney, is at 20 percent. Gingrich, formerly the leader in the race, has collapsed to 13 percent. Gingrich is just two points ahead of Congressman Michele Bachmann, who is at 11; and just three points ahead of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry, both of whom are at 10. The prospects that Santorum, Bachmann or Perry will finish ahead of Gingrich are real—and rising.
Indeed, the real story of the last week in Iowa may be not of Gingrich’s campaigning but of where the anti-Romney sentiment that briefly rested with his candidacy will shift next. If it goes, for instance, toward Santorum, this race could yet see another twist. And Gingrich will be watching from the sidelines, as the structure of the caucuses favors better-organized candidates with wild-eyed cadres. While Gingrich was an explosion waiting to happen, his collapse creates a whole new set of challenges for the Republican Party faithful that steadfastly refuses to get on the Romney bandwagon.
Gingrich was the last “name” prospect in the anti-Romney category. Now, the GOP base will have to start scraping the bottom of the barrel for Santorums, or repurposing Bachmanns. Or perhaps join Bill Kristol in begging someone, anyone else to enter the race.
The Gingrich explosion creates the potential for chaos.
And make no mistake, Gingrich is exploding.
Already, the number of stops on the Gingrich bus tour has been cut in half—from the forty-four the former House Speaker announced just before Christmas to just twenty-two. And, with all due respect to eastern Iowa, opening stops at the Dubuque Golf and Country Club, Dyersville’s National Farm Toy Museum and Mabes Pizza in Decorah did not make this tour look like a victory lap.
The painful political truth is that the man who would like Republicans to believe that he is the master strategist who alone can displace President Obama has hit a serious speed-bump, called “Virginia.”
Gingrich lives in Virginia, the state that still refers to itself as “the cradle of presidents”—a bow to the fact that it produced commanders-in-chief in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet he will not be on the ballot when Virginia Republicans make their primary pick.
With his barely functional organization and seat-of-the-pants scheduling, Gingrich has never really transitioned from book-touring minor celebrity to serious presidential contender. And that fact was driven home by the Virginia fiasco.