The waning days of Newt Gingrich’s campaign


Newt Gingrich appears to be nearing the end of his campaign for the GOP nomination. (David Duprey/AP)

Five state primaries are on the line tonight, but they’re not really getting much attention. Among the political chattering classes, there seems to be more talk about Marco Rubio (a top contender to be frontrunner Mitt Romney’s running mate) and his Brookings speech than there is about any of the other candidates still in the race. Yes, Ron Paul’s still in it. Newt Gingrich is too.

But that may be about to change. On Monday, Gingrich, who appears to be hoping for a surprise upset in Delaware, was hinting that the end may be near. “I think we need to take a deep look at what we’re doing,” he told NBC. "We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night and we will look and see what the results are." The news follows Gingrich bouncing checks (which he later corrected), laying off campaign staffers and cancelling appearances in North Carolina. Although the Adelson family gave him another $5 million, Gingrich’s filing from last week showed his campaign to be $4 million in debt.

Whether he wins Delaware’s 17 delegates or not, this is almost certainly Gingrich’s last chance to bow out gracefully. As even Gingrich has admitted, he stands little chance of winning the nomination. Despite saying he is staying in to give conservatives a choice, his campaign is looking suspiciously more like an act driven by his ego than his political conscience. The same man who called Obama the “food-stamp president” and wants so badly to lower the national deficit has requested Secret Service detail for his campaign that reportedly runs nearly $40,000 a day. And according to numbers run by The Fix, he has come in fourth place more times than he has placed first, second or third combined.

It’s easy to see how the trappings of a presidential campaign would make it hard for anyone who envisions himself in a position of power — much less someone with an ego like Gingrich’s — to quit. You’re surrounded by people who you are paying to project an image of you as commanding, intelligent and capable of holding the world’s most demanding job. You travel around the country meeting people at carefully orchestrated campaign stops who love to cheer you on. You have Secret Service men standing on the side of your stage making you look powerful.

When it’s all over, what’s left? A slightly more profitable contract as a commentator on Fox News? More paid gigs as a “historian”-consultant? Writing “some future memoir”? Those might pay the bills, but they do much less to fuel the ambitious soul. Even if Gingrich does campaign for Romney once he bows out, as he’s said he would do, it seems doubtful after such a particularly brutal primary that he will be a candidate for Romney’s cabinet should the GOP frontrunner win.

Quitting and admitting defeat is hard, especially when it means giving up the aura of promise and power that goes with a presidential campaign. A race between people who think enough of themselves to believe they can become president is bound to draw personalities with big egos, and the spotlight and expenses showered on their campaigns only serves to feed them. Time will tell how staying in the race will affect the waning days of Newt Gingrich’s career. But with each passing day, the chances of it helping him seem to get slimmer and slimmer.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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