But comparisons between the Gingrich and McCain campaigns go only so far. As one Republican strategist pointed out late Thursday, McCain lost several top staffers, including his campaign manager, chief strategist and communications team, but he kept the support of key elected officials and others. He had a base of support in New Hampshire, owing to his primary victory there in 2000.
“Races are not about staff,” said Mike DuHaime, who was Rudy Giuliani’s manager during the primaries and later joined the McCain team in the general election. “When staff left McCain, he survived because none of his elected official endorsers, party official endorsers or volunteer leaders left him. The difference here is that Speaker Gingrich does not have a similar level of support among the rank and file, which will make this harder to withstand.”
Certainly there are some similarities to McCain, particularly the fact that Gingrich’s campaign, like McCain’s, has major money problems, as numerous advisers made clear Thursday. “We were living a Cadillac campaign on a Bud Light budget,” said David Carney, one of the Gingrich advisers who departed.
As bad as McCain’s plight was in the summer of 2007 — staff cuts, a team in turmoil, loss of confidence, deep money woes — Gingrich’s is worse. So tight was the money that Gingrich’s team couldn’t execute some of the basic plans they had agreed on earlier in the year. The campaign plan called for making a splash with a strong finish in the Iowa straw poll in August, but Gingrich didn’t have the money required to pay the registration fee or to purchase the list of past caucus attendees from the state party.
McCain was prepared to endure the abuse of the chattering class and to accept the humiliation of his suddenly reduced status that summer of 2007. He flew commercial to New Hampshire, carrying his own bag, and quietly campaigned, often without any significant attention from the press. Gingrich reportedly flew commercial on his New Hampshire trip this week, but is he prepared for months of that kind of life, after years of private jets?
Gingrich has been such a fixture in the Republican Party hierarchy for so long that it’s easy to forget why he may have been so ill-prepared for the campaign. Though he served as speaker of the House, he had never been elected to anything other than a congressional district in Georgia. He sought to marshal support for a conservative agenda, but that is not the same as persuading people to trust you with the presidency.