The anticipation of Herman Cain’s departure from the 2012 election season following reports that he is “re-assessing” his candidacy indicates for many that Newt Gingrich stands to gain most from Cain’s exit. But would Cain’s absence be a sustainable benefit to Gingrich?

Although somewhat diminished in recent weeks, Cain’s popularity has had much to do with his position an alternative to Mitt Romney, leading many to reasonably assert that Newt Gingrich will be the primary beneficiary of Cain’s departure.

Brookings Institution scholar William Galston, a former policy adviser to Bill Clinton who worked on the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and Walter Mondale, sees Newt Gingrich as the most obvious winner if Herman Cain drops out of the presidential race.

“Gingrich would be the single biggest beneficiary of a Cain withdrawal,” said Galston.

“Romney and some of the other not-Romneys might pick up a bit, but I suspect that Cain’s departure would accelerate--and perhaps cement--Gingrich’s rise to the top of the not-Romney pack,” added Galston.

While Romney might need Cain, Gingrich may need him just as much. It is entirely arguable that the ongoing “Newt surge” is not sustainable for the long-run without the distractions Cain provides. On more than one occasion Cain’s gaffes, the multiple accusations of sexual harassment, in addition to an alleged extramarital affair, have taken the heat off of Gingrich.

Without Cain, Gingrich cannot necessarily rely on other candidates to divert attention from his payments from Freddie Mac, accusations of lobbying, money-making schemes and gigantic Tiffany’s bills, not to mention Gingrich’s own extramarital affairs. And persistent attention on these issues will not likely benefit Gingrich.

Galston says that “the scrutiny of Gingrich’s record and finances will intensify from here on out.”

Some of that scrutiny, out of self-interest, may come from the Republican party itself.

“It’s a lot easier to imagine Gingrich as the nominee than it was a month ago,” said Galston. “Republicans believe that they have a good chance of winning back the White House, and they don’t want to blow it on a nominee with disqualifying skeletons in the closet.”