Any doubts remaining about Mitt Romney’s frontrunner status are quickly clearing. Romney’s decisive win in Illinois on Tuesday sets up what, in effect, will likely be a two-man race between him and Rick Santorum until one of them—almost surely Romney—reaches the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination. A lead of nearly 12 percentage points in a state like Illinois, which is home to everyone from metropolitan business conservatives to Middle America working-class voters, looks like a pretty commanding win.
Tuesday’s victories will also surely revive the calls for Newt Gingrich to step down from the race. The more the race becomes between two men, the more a third candidate’s vote tally is disrupting the outcome of the race. (That said, it should be noted that Gingrich came in fourth in Illinois, actually behind Ron Paul.) As Santorum’s supporters grow more concerned about their candidate’s changes, and party leaders try to end the appareance of party infighting, the calls for Gingrich to step aside will surely grow louder.
So what will it take for Newt to quit? Gingrich has said he’s pressing on, even if he looks to have a lighter schedule, and his campaign reps say he’s looking ahead to future states. I’ve examined this question before, noting that with this year’s unusual crop of candidates, any of the not-Romneys who actually do drop out “for the good of the party” will sound more hollow than usual. For Gingrich in particular—a candidate seemingly motivated, at least in part, by his sense of his place in history—it will likely take something more.
Pollster John Zogby, writing in Forbes, suggests Gingrich could channel his spoiler tendencies and “Gingrich vs. Romney blood feud” by dropping out and supporting Santorum. Gingrich is no doubt proud of the race he’s run, and the only way to stay proud of it is to find a classy exit, writes The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis. And the Daily Beast’s Michelle Cottle writes that Gingrich will need to be promised a key post, though not in the cabinet, to satisfy his “larger than life character.” Like, say, running NASA—he is a fan of moon colonies—or running the dinosaur pavilion at the Museum of Natural History for the “amateur paleontologist.”
All jesting aside, the question of what would make Gingrich step down is a serious one that gets at the heart of the ego, psyche and intrinsic motivations that drive the people vying for the presidency. Those who are willing to put themselves through the rigors of a national campaign are not just looking to do something good for the country, even if that is what they’re telling the world. That may be true in part, but they’re also driven by their own ambition, their own competitiveness and, more often than not, their own arrogance. It takes no small dose of hubris to believe you can be president of the United States, even in the humblest of candidates.
That is especially so in the case of Newt Gingrich. This is a person who doesn’t mind admitting that he thinks grandiose thoughts and who loves to remind anyone who will listen that he’s the only candidate smart enough to come up with the really big ideas our country needs right now. He frequently places himself among great names from history, whether presidents (“Just like Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR, I would be prepared to take on the judiciary”) or inventors (“I’m the candidate of the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford”).
Newt Gingrich could surprise everyone by up and quitting the race after Louisiana’s primary. But I’d bet against it. This is not a man likely to step down quietly.
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