Gingrich presidential campaign implodes

at 04:30 PM ET, 06/09/2011


Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign suffered a mass staff exodus on Thursday. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign imploded Thursday afternoon with his entire senior staff resigning en masse, according to multiple sources familiar with the moves.

“When the campaign and the candidate disagree on the path, they’ve got to part ways,” said Rick Tyler, a longtime Gingrich spokesman who was among those who left the campaign.

Tyler as well as Rob Johnson, Gingrich’s campaign manager, Dave Carney and Katon Dawson, senior strategists to the effort, media consultant Sam Dawson, Iowa strategist Craig Schoenfeld, South Carolina operative Walter Whetsell and Georgia-based adviser Scott Rials have all stepped aside. Much of Gingrich’s early state operation was also headed for the exits, according to a one senior campaign source.

In the immediate aftermath of the departures, which several sources said came at a meeting Thursday in Gingrich’s Washington office, Gingrich released a statement via Facebook pledging to continue in the race.

“I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring,” Gingrich wrote. “The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles.”

Among the issues leading to the resignations, according to knowledgeable sources, was the two-week vacation that Gingrich and his wife, Callista, insisted upon taking against the advice of his top political staff. Coming as it did after one of the most disastrous campaign launches in recent memory, it raised questions as to whether Gingrich would be willing to “commit time to the grassroots,” said Tyler.

Gingrich had returned earlier this week and visited New Hampshire but remained largely off the campaign trail.

Carney and Johnson are longtime aides to Texas Gov. Rick Perry who has said in recent days that he is contemplating a run for president himself in 2012. The Carney and Johnson resignations will fuel speculation that Perry is moving toward the race.

The Gingrich campaign had struggled from the start.

In early March, Joe Gaylord, a longtime Gingrich associate, said he was set to announce. Tyler denied that claim — evidence of the lack of coordination even within Gingrich’s inner circle.

When Gingrich finally did get into race last month he managed to step on his own announcement by denouncing Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s plans for a huge Medicare overhaul as “right wing social engineering”.

That brought scads of conservative condemnation down on Gingrich and, at around the same time, reports surfaced that Gingrich had carried a six-figure debt at the Tiffany’s jewelry store. Gingrich refused to explain what accounted for such a large debt, stoking further questions and extending the story’s life.

Tyler issued a statement blaming the media for Gingrich’s problems — “the literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” he said — that managed to make matters worse.

After such an ignominious start to the campaign, Gingrich’s decision to proceed with a two week vacation baffled political observers and vexed his own strategists

Gingrich has long ridden to the beat of his own political drummer. After years as a backbencher in the House, Gingrich spearheaded Republicans’ 1994 takeover of the chamber and was chosen as Speaker. Four years later, he was gone amid a disastrously wrong-headed prediction that the GOP would pick up seats.

Gingrich very nearly entered the 2008 presidential race but backed away at the last minute amid lingering concerns that he could not fully disentangle himself from his vast American Solutions organization — a vast fundraising and idea generation factory.

Senior political reporter Dan Balz contributed to this report.

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