The other problem is how to rapidly build a campaign infrastructure large and sturdy enough to sustain a viable presidential candidacy. Gingrich is months behind in the laborious process of identifying and mobilizing supporters in Iowa. Underscoring that fact were the repeated appeals for active support that he made to the 14,000 Iowans his campaign said were listening in on the call. Press 1 to speak for him at the caucuses on Jan. 3, he said. Press 2 to become a precinct captain.
The former speaker’s presidential campaign is now in its fourth and potentially decisive phase. The first stage was anticipation — the period from early this year until he finally entered the race for the Republican nomination. It was a time of stumbles and false starts.
The second was irrelevance, the long period that began with his attack on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal and his Greek cruise vacation and continued after his campaign imploded. Though Gingrich was in the campaign, he was rarely in the conversation — more a historical figure commenting from the sidelines than a contender.
The third was rebirth, which encompassed his surprising reemergence as a force in the debates, his sudden rise in the polls and his customary self-confidence in declaring that, in all likelihood, he would be the Republican nominee. His road back has been visible in his movement on the stage at the many Republican debates, from the wings where the also-rans have been relegated to the center spot reserved for the leader in the polls.
The fourth phase — testing — is now underway. It began in the past two weeks when his rivals, deciding he might be for real, began to attack him and the party elites who fear the possible consequences of his nomination also launched an assault. Collectively, those groups have raised questions about his conservatism, his consistency, his reliability, his stability, his fitness. Gingrich maintains that he will run a positive campaign, but he knows the power of attack politics, having made it a principal tool of his rise to power in the House.
His unorthodox campaign is being tested, possibly beyond its limits. Conference calls or other tools of technology may help short-circuit the process of building an Iowa organization or answering attacks. But without the money and infrastructure of his principal rival, Mitt Romney, he is at a potentially enormous disadvantage as the campaign moves from the debate stages to the close-in competition in advance of the voting in the early states.