It’s been said before. Persons stop running (seriously) for President when they run out of money. But what the SuperPAC’s have done is made it possible for a single donor to basically bankroll a campaign with TV and other ad money while allowing the campaigns to horde their money for things like travel, salaries and what not.
Thus Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum go on with their campaigns because two wealthy individuals and their families, casino baron Sheldon Aldeson and financier Foster Friess has made it possible to go on when in past campaign they would have been forced from the field due to lack of resources compared to Mitt Romney, or grassroots passion compared to Ron Paul.
Of course neither man has to go on. They can simply call it quits and do so honorably and hope their campaign may lead to better opportunities in the future. But they continue onward I suspect because each believes if the other quits they and they alone will inherit ideologically conservative voters in a finally united effort to defeat Mitt Romney and win the nomination. So like two scorpions in a bottle, each is trying to sting the other unsuccessfully to keep their miserable journeys going.
Indeed it is tough and grueling to run for President as Newt is finding out in Nevada right now and as Santorum is finding out trying to campaign and care for a sick daughter. Paul is indeed luckier because he can always fall back on the message and movement if things don’t go well on the campaign trail. Neither Gingrich or Santorum can do this because there is no movement and there is no message. It’s tempting to think if they were the lone person on the ideological Right still standing the race would change in their favor. There is some evidence to show this is possible. After all Newt rallied the Tea Partiers to upset Romney in South Carolina while Santorum rallied the evangelicals together to win Iowa. Even though Romney won comfortably in Florida a county-by-county count shows Gingrich still won in the parts of the state still tied to the South culturally, especially in the panhandle and north-central region. No doubt there must be some strategic thinking of staying in until Super Tuesday, winning states like Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, exposing Romney’s weaknesses in the Red States and hoping they’re a “game changer” for the rest of the country.
But it’s more than money which pushes Santorum and Gingrich forward, it’s the divisions within the ideological Right and that’s why it’s no guarantee even if one scorpion was finally stung the other wouldn’t eventually die too trapped in the bottle. Gingrich won South Carolina with populist message against the “elites” and for the first-time since 1980 South Carolina wasn’t willing to play its “stamp-the-establishment-front-runner-with-the-South’s-seal-of-approval” game. Newt tapped into a bundle of resentments and won, that’s when he’s usually successful. It’s when Newt tries to play statesman is where he blunders. Thomas B. Edsall basically nails why Gingrich lost Florida. He needed a Right populist prairie fire (on Florida one would call it, I suppose, a swamp fire) to overtake Romney in George Wallace-like fashion. But in thinking Florida wasn’t South Carolina, which it isn’t, Gingrich dropped his populism and resentments and started talking about moon colonies. I don’t know if the Florida “space vote” went for Gingrich but it clearly had an effect in putting out the fire. Thus, turnout plummeted, Santorum’s vote stayed where it was and Romney was 51 delegates richer. Newt’s paradox is this, he can only win if message is bigger than himself. No one wants to vote for Newt for President, they want to vote for Newt to be against someone for President. That might work in some states against Romney but given that Romney has generally high favorable ratings and has the support of both non-ideological, average conservatives who aren’t heavy Fox News or talk radio fans along with others on the Right opportunistically looking to be on the Romney gravy train, which is why they’ve been giving it to Gingrich with both barrels in the media.
So why doesn’t Santorum benefit then in the wake of Gingrich’s obvious limitations and failings? Because Santorum is no populist and his campaign is not geared toward that kind of message. Not that there’s some potential populism there, against TARP, the bailouts and free trade if he wish to exploit such issues. But Santorum would rather play culture war politics than campaign on such issues, thinking he benefits in relation to the humanly flawed Gingrich. And while it worked Iowa and works or will work in places where there are strong pockets of religious Right voters such as Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina and Florida, for most of the country it doesn’t work any more than harping on the Venezuelan threat works for him. So he too is limited in his potential voting base because he doesn’t stir resentments the way Gingrich does and many others who not culture warriors think he’s a self-righteous jerk.
So there are your conservative candidates well on their way to losing another GOP Presidential nomination fight. It’s been a long 32 years since Ronald Reagan had a united conservative movement pushing him towards the Republican nomination and the White House. What’s left today has been reduced to the resentments of old people heavily dependent on government, the twilight of a religious movement unable to deal with a more secular culture which it was unable to prevent and its cynical establishment in the power centers more inclined to make money or cut deals than make arguments. We know what they’re against but we don’t know what they’re for and if the economy was going great guns like it was in the 1990s during the early parts of war they would be for Medicare Part D too. Don’t kid yourself to the nature of their opposition to government, it’s not anything which has to do with principle unlike Ron Paul supporters. And the one candidate promising rebirth who could stop potentially stop Romney if they backed him, they won’t even consider. Now that’s pretty miserable.