As expected, the recent uptick in Mitt Romney's fortunes has increased pressure on some candidates to leave the race. Newt Gingrich, particularly, has had some party leaders trying to convince him to withdraw, lest he divide the Republican Party. Much the same for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.
Santorum and Paul have been behaving like outriders for Romney of late. Santorum seems to be angling for vice president and Paul has been so obsequiously supportive of the former Massachusetts governor that he endangers his own credentials. Only Gingrich remains as a viable conservative choice. But his campaign remains primarily a live-off-the-land, seat-of-the-pants operation as compared to Romney's well-conceived effort.
But it is premature to ask Gingrich to quit. Ask anyone who witnessed Ronald Reagan's early primary performance against Gerald Ford in 1976. To say the least, Reagan could not buy a break. After coming within a percentage point of upsetting a sitting president in New Hampshire, the press nevertheless piled on the Ford bandwagon. That was in contrast to their behavior in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson defeated anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy with a write-in campaign by 7 percent points and George McGovern lost to Edmund Muskie of Maine in the Granite State by 12 percent in 1972. They proclaimed the losers winners. In McCarthy's case, he outspent LBJ $250,000 to $50,000. Until 1984, Reagan was anything but Teflon.
But Reagan lost Florida by 53 percent to 47 percent and Illinois by 60 percent to 40 percent, and he was born in the state. He was left for dead as he entered North Carolina in March 1976. Reagan was hounded by the press who asked him when he was going to withdraw. Short of cash, albeit supported by Jesse Helms, Reagan was down 20 percent in some polls. On primary day, he won 52 percent to 46.
Gingrich shows much the same persistence that Reagan displayed. After North Carolina, there was a month and a half lull until the next big primary in Texas. Reagan took all 100 delegates on May 1 and the "inevitability" of Ford was no longer for discussion. He went on to lose narrowly at Kansas City, but the conservative movement that looked humbled in March was recognized as the dominant force within the GOP. Had Reagan listened to the press, his career could have been destroyed and his future presidency also would have never come about.
It is puzzling that the press is anxious to destroy candidacies before the convention. As much as they decry the sterility of the made-for-cable events, they contribute to their stultifying boredom. Platforms are rarely discussed because the bloodless reporting makes anything passionate look foolish. Indeed, politics subsumed by mindless messages and humiliating exhibitionism are on full display. Gingrich has at least not stooped to the banality of Romney, whose cliches are endless and his monotone distracting. He sounds like an old public service ad or, worse, telephone instructions. He says nothing clearly and well - I guess.
For Republicans, a long race is not necessarily bad. You can not mix and match for the presidency. If that were the case, Robert Dole was perfect. Resume candidates and Johnny one notes - Romney on the economy - McGovern on the Vietnam War - rarely win. Gingrich and Reagan before him were not wrong in suggesting that a comprehensive message takes longer - but in the end is more satisfying.
Gingrich should continue, perhaps allowing some of the cable outlets to cover something newsworthy.