If Mitt Romney was ever worried about Newt Gingrich's momentary resurgence as a popular GOP presidential candidate, he shouldn't have been. As many polls now indicate, the sun will come out tomorrow for Romney in the Sunshine State, with a solid victory over Gingrich that will give him the permanent lead on the road to the Republican nomination.
The fact is that, though Gingrich intoxicated voters with his fancy debating footwork every night, in the cold light of morning, those same voters always woke up to the grim realization that they didn't really like the person before them, and so made haste to get back to someone who was not perfect, but was at least reliable -- to Mitt Romney.
A Shock to the System
No one is more surprised than Gingrich himself that he was able to stay this long in the race -- he was only in it for the publicity. The most memorable development of his campaign, last year, was the en mass resignation of his staff over his apparent lack of commitment to it, as he never bothered to show up at the office after announcing his candidacy. Several weeks later, he still didn't seem to care much, having yet to make a move to replace his staff. The fact is, he never expected to have a shelf life beyond a Donald Trump minute.
But like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Donald Trump before him, Gingrich discovered that vehemently denouncing every single Obama policy as a failure, lashing out at the Washington political elite, castigating the wealthy, and vowing to put every unemployed American back to work, he could actually gain traction and even win a primary. He didn't need a concrete plan for getting the job done. He just needed a loud voice.
It wouldn't be surprising to discover that Gingrich's campaign staff was never actually prepared for a victory of any kind. They were not so much his strategists as his public relations posse. Gingrich probably made it clear early on that he was his own man, blazing his own trail, making up his own strategy as he went along. The job of his staff was to quickly connect the dots of his disparate comments to create a semblance of a cohesive, political platform.
Many attributed Gingrich's poor showing against Romney in last week's CNN debate to his overconfidence after winning Iowa, and there's much truth in that. His staff had probably tried to sit him down before the debate to go over the talking points and he probably brushed them off, boasting, "Don't worry boys. I've got this covered."
But the problem is also that Newt Gingrich isn't just a bad winner, he's also a bad loser, as he proved when he attributed his loss in the CNN debate to Romney packing the house with supporters who cheered him on. It's the kind of pettiness that sunk his popularity as Speaker of the House in the mid-90s, when it appeared that he closed down the government out of spite because he had to sit at the back of the plane while then-President Bill Clinton sat in the front during an official trip to Israel.
Man of Constant Sorrow
But don't cry for Newt. When the dust settles, his presidential campaign will prove to have been a glorious failure. Prior to tossing his hat into the race, he was going gently into that good night, thinking bitterly that he could have been a contender. But suddenly his flame burns brightly again, his speaker's fees have doubled, and people care what he has to say. There's a best-selling book in this and a triumphant return to Fox News as a celebrity analyst -- maybe even his own show.
But he could undermine it all if he follows through on his vow to stay in the race after his loss in Florida. Like the drunken uncle at the wedding, he was marginally entertainment until he started to interfere with the ceremony and embarrassing the bride. Republicans are tired of his antics and want him to go home. They know he cannot win against Obama, and so they expect him to play the company man and gallantly yield to his rival.
That's a tough pill for Gingrich to swallow. Humility has never been his strong suit. Right now, the fact that he got this far in the race is a true personal and professional victory for him. His latest comments suggest that he is preparing for a graceful exit, and that's good. But if he hangs in until the bitter end, Gingrich could find his pride going before his final fall.