Their speeches last night could not have been more different. Rick Santorum was humble and high-minded. Newt Gingrich was snide and angry. Santorum talked about America. Gingrich talked about negative ads. Santorum’s message was aimed at working-class voters, social conservatives, disillusioned independents and hawks. In other words, it’s a broad-based message. Gingrich’s message was entirely negative: anti-Ron Paul and anti-Mitt Romney (asking if voters really wanted “a Massachusetts moderate”). Santorum was glowing and smiling. Gingrich was unsmiling.
Gingrich certainly appeared angry last night, as if he’d been denied something rightfully his. He had expected to win, and finishing behind a candidate who thinks we brought 9/11 on ourselves and wants to take us back to the gold standard must sting.
But conservatives who vouched for him and ignored his egomania are seeing what that entails. In search of personal vindication, Gingrich will stay in the race, making it that more difficult for Santorum to mount a challenge to Mitt Romney. The new Newt? Not remotely. It has always been and will always be only about Newt.
The historian from Freddie Mac who insists he didn't lobby, the advocate for the individual mandate, the speaker who “melted” (in his own words) in Bill Clinton’s presence and the twice-divorced, serial adulterer lectured us about a great debate about changing the culture.
It’s fascinating that the Union Leader, which has been on a search-and-destroy mission against Mitt Romney, is enabling the candidate who poses the biggest problem for the one candidate who can actually beat Romney. Publisher Joe McQuaid’s boosterism for Gingrich is now a dagger aimed at Santorum. Should Romney win the nomination, he’ll have Gingrich and McQuaid to thank.
Gingrich will go on to New Hampshire and compete in the debates. Should he come in behind other not-Romney candidates as he did in Iowa, what would be his justification for continuing on to South Carolina? He appears to be in this for personal redemption and revenge. But in reality he will cement his role as the conservative base’s biggest headache.
It’s foolish to appeal to his sense of loyalty to the conservative movement. He has none. The proof is in his quixotic and nasty campaign.