Saturday, February 11, 2012

Campaign 2012:
Past, via Patch, may be prologue

Former McCain campaign brain Steve Schmidt has a reputation for sound campaign strategy (his former candidate’s fortunes notwithstanding). But Schmidt, now working with MSNBC as an analyst, recently proposed an outcome for two of the Republican campaigns that’s already common knowledge for readers of a news Web site in Lexington, S.C.

Speaking on Wednesday, in the wake of three Rick Santorum blowouts in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, Schmidt said:

“Now, Rick Santorum needs Newt Gingrich to either get out of the race or he needs those Gingrich voters to collapse Newt Gingrich’s support and come over to him pretty decisively, because if there are two candidates 
splitting the conservative vote, looking ahead at the remaining contest and 
going on to Super Tuesday, I still think it means that it’s big trouble for those candidates.”

The same thinking was reported on Jan. 10 by Andrew Moore of the Lexington, S.C. Patch, who wrote that sources inside the Santorum campaign say that Newt Gingrich intends to support the former Pennsylvania senator, should Newt opt out of a race he’s increasingly unlikely to win.

“While Newt Gingrich campaign staffers are calling such talk premature, there are indications that should the former House Speaker bow out of the GOP race, he would throw his support behind rising Rick Santorum in a last-ditch effort to stop frontrunner Mitt Romney,” reports Moore, writing for Lexington Patch, part of the Patch community Web site network owned by AOL and The Huffington Post.

“Multiple South Carolina sources affiliated with Santorum's campaign said Gingrich's campaign has contacted Santorum's campaign to discuss endorsing the former Pennsylvania senator should he drop out.”

“One source, speaking to Patch on the condition they not be identified, paraphrased Gingrich's stance as delivered by high level campaign staff this way: ‘If it can't be me, I want it to be Rick Santorum.’ ”

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What Schmidt is strategizing about could well happen organically whether Newt quits the race or not. The process of candidates being winnowed from the field started months ago. There’s months to go before the nomination process ends and, at this point, only about 12 percent of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination decided. There’s a lot of primaries left.

And conservative voters desperately seeking the anti-Romney may well gravitate on their own to Santorum. If that happens, we may find that Schmidt’s scenario isn’t either/or, it’s both/and.

Voters may decide to go Santorum’s way on the basis of a building wave of support, his perceived fidelity to conservative principles, a compelling personal narrative, and the belief that Newt Gingrich is running more for himself than out of any sense of national mission.

If that happens, Newt’s likely to finally see the light, take a hard look at the brutal arithmetic facing him, and decide he cannot possibly win. At that time — certainly after Super Tuesday but not long after — Gingrich decides that the next best thing to not winning the nomination is making sure Romney doesn’t win either. At that moment, Newt throws his support to Santorum.

Which is exactly what Patch reported a month ago.

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That’s something that’s more likely to happen now, with the news that Romney won the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll today, with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Santorum with 31 percent … followed by Gingrich, a distant third (15 percent).

If Newt stays the course through Super Tuesday, more out of obstinance than anything else, the calls will grow for him to step aside. If he decides that enough's enough, that’s when Gingrich can be expected to be a signatory to the ABM (Anyone But Mitt) Treaty conservatives hope to ratify between now and the convention in August.

Image credits: Lexington Patch logo: © 2012 Patch Inc. Gingrich and Santorum: CNN.

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