"46 STATES TO GO."
That was the sign on Newt Gingrich's podium in an Orlando ballroom last Tuesday, when the former House speaker faced supporters after losing the Florida primary and defiantly conceded nothing.
"We are going to contest every place, and we are going to win," Gingrich said, "and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August."
Even with every political breeze at his back, Gingrich couldn't contest every remaining state. He failed to qualify for the March 6 Virginia primary, and he won't be on Missouri's nonbinding ballot this week. But if he's serious about having it out with Mitt Romney in a long, grueling slog for the Republican nomination, the next several months will be brutal, exhausting, and increasingly bitter. Would that be good for the GOP?
Well, that's one theory.
Sarah Palin says it would. As she did before the South Carolina and Florida primaries, the former GOP vice-presidential candidate last week urged voters in Nevada "to allow the process to continue" by backing Gingrich in Saturday's caucuses. "Competition breeds success for the US, and that's what we need in this debate," she told Fox News.
There was a similar message on election night in Florida from Ralph Reed, who has served as executive director of the Christian Coalition and as chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. Asked on CNN whether President Obama should be relishing the prospect of a long, bruising battle between Romney and Gingrich, Reed said he should not -- and cited Obama's own marathon in 2008 against Hillary Clinton. "No question about it: Obama was a tougher, a better, and a more disciplined candidate in the general because of her."
Reed also pointed to GOP history.
"This is a recurrent drama within the Republican Party that goes all the way back to the Eisenhower-Taft battle at the convention in '52," he said. "It reaches its crescendo with Goldwater-Rockefeller. Then it's replayed again with Reagan and Ford in '76; they go all the way to the convention. The fact is, there's nothing but good out of a muscular, competitive, hard-fought primary, as long as you can reconcile at the convention."