Like the man who stood in the middle of the road, Newt Gingrich has been brutally beaten up by political and media traffic going both ways. But he has vowed not to get out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
The fact is, knowing how quickly Newt can be prone to hit the "I'm-out-of-here" button, I'm shocked that he has stuck to his guns through as much seemingly disastrous news as he has endured already in the race. Not only was his first "announcement" for president a complete fiasco, but his second "official" announcement gave him a boost, only to be followed soon by having most of his campaign staff walk away from his campaign.
Don't think that some close to Gingrich don't find it more than a bit coincidental that a campaign staff built around former associates of Texas Gov. Rick Perry took over Gingrich's campaign, only to leave en masse just prior to Gingrich's first televised debate as a candidate. Now word is that Perry is suddenly considering a run for the presidency after having said he wouldn't. Meanwhile, some of those who left Gingrich just keep feeding stories about him to the media.
Prior to Gingrich's self-inflicted wounds -- including a not-so-clever remark about Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's proposals to drastically trim the federal budget -- Gingrich in national polls had been not far behind Mitt Romney and other big names who are announced or potential candidates for the Republican nomination. Now he barely scratches in most polls.
Don't get me wrong: Newt Gingrich can be his own worst enemy. He seems too enamored with Washington, D.C.'s political and governmental establishment, even as he runs for president as an outsider, anti-Washington candidate. And for whatever reason, many conservatives don't believe Gingrich is conservative enough for their taste. Even though I must admit that Gingrich is guilty of some of the faults he's been accused of, his credentials as a true conservative are not something that I have ever questioned.
Where does he go from here? At a belated birthday party for him, held at his massive and mostly empty campaign office in Atlanta, Gingrich told reporters that he would not leave the race. Instead, reading the tea leaves, he intends to press on, running a small-budget effort while he continues to bring up issues that the other candidates either don't address or are not as adept at tackling as he.
The former speaker alludes to other successful campaigns in which the candidate hit huge bumps in the road and much of the staff deserted the effort. His first example, Ronald Reagan's 1980 race, doesn't resonate that theme with me as it apparently does to Newt. I recall firings and resignations in that campaign, but nothing as dramatic as virtually every campaign staffer leaving.
His other example, John McCain in 2008, seems to be potentially more of a model for Gingrich. It is not unusual for campaigns to appear to be at death's door, only to regain their footing.
For the moment Mitt Romney seems to me to be by far and away the frontrunner in the race. I base that not just on polling, but on his stellar campaign organization and fundraising prowess.
Michele Bachmann is the newest star in the conservative galaxy, and Rick Perry is the next "best thing" to possibly join the fun.
For Gingrich, there will be more misery. I expect his next campaign disclosure filing will be dismal. And the media will continue to do what they do best -- feed off of the newly found bones of what seems a political carcass.
But Gingrich will stay in the race, if only to maintain his credibility for the purpose of offering his opinions and leading think tanks. And there is always the possibility that he will turn around what seems to be an impossible-to-salvage campaign.
I never underestimate Gingrich when he is determined, and I saw that look in his eyes at the recent press conference. If nothing else, he has certainly learned some more hard lessons, such as ,"You will always be the smartest person in the room if everyone else leaves it!"