The GOP establishment wants Gingrich gone, and this explains why we’re now seeing a push in that direction. Naturally, Rick Santorum wants Gingrich gone, because he thinks that he will be the beneficiary. This may be a mistaken notion, being pushed by the establishment because they know the truth of the matter: If Gingrich gets out, Santorum will be locked into a one-on-one fight with Romney that he almost certainly will not win. Voters shouldn’t be misled into the belief that what Santorum needs is a one-on-one contest. Placed in that position, a large number of Gingrich supporters will migrate not to Santorum’s campaign, as the media establishment pretends, but choosing instead to migrate to the Romney camp, although perhaps grudgingly.
If you only watch the headline coverage, you might think the polls indicate that the anti-Romney vote is somehow uniform in its opposition to Romney, but apart from the fact that there are multiple non-Romney candidates, the divide is a bit more meaningful than the difference in preferences between chocolate and vanilla. Many of the people who support Gingrich are of a mind to avoid candidates who seem “too religious,” as has been the knock on Santorum. It’s not that they don’t have deep faith, or are somehow anti-religion, but that these are voters who believe that faith is a deeply personal matter that shouldn’t be continuously aired in public as the basis of governance. They prefer a strong separation of church and state, at least in terms of policy, although they do not agree with policies and rulings that prohibit “in God we trust” on the currency, or a generalized, acute hostility to faith.
Santorum has been positioned as a candidate who wears his faith on his sleeve. That’s not entirely fair, but in politics, perceptions are driven by images and soundbites, and the media has effectively portrayed him that way whether he deserves it or not. For some fair portion of Gingrich support, this is not palatable, and if left to choose between Santorum, who they view as somewhat theocratic, and Romney who doesn’t talk so frequently about his faith, the withdrawal of Gingrich would likely provide just enough new grudging Romney support to permit Romney to defeat Santorum in short order.
The Romney campaign is well aware of this, and it’s why they focused so much attention on knocking off Gingrich in Florida. It also shows in its approach since Super Tuesday. Romney is not spending much effort on Kansas, but they are spending time in the South, where Alabama and Mississippi will hold their primaries Tuesday. It’s not Santorum that they’re worried about, because they know that if they can push Gingrich out, they will pick up more of the former Speaker’s support than will Santorum. Too many Newt supporters view Santorum as more unpalatable even than Romney.
The GOP and media establishment knows this to be the case, and this is why one after another, they are coming along to tell us now is the time for the party to coalesce around Romney, by ditching Gingrich. Notice that they do not urge Santorum to get out, or even mention him in this context. Instead, they’re focused on Gingrich. If they want Romney, you would think they would focus on his current top opponent, but that’s not the case in the media flurry of “Newt needs to go” pronouncements.
Rather than focus on Santorum, they are pushing for Gingrich to get out, and that should provide you all the insight you need to understand their real motive. If Gingrich gets out, this contest will be as good as over. The inevitable candidate will be the nominee after all, and the GOP establishment knows it. That’s why they’re even willing to see Santorum win in Alabama and Mississippi. If Gingrich wins these two on Tuesday, he will remain a contestant. If he doesn’t, it will likely spell the end for the former speaker. Whether Romney himself can win in the South, or Santorum makes no difference except in the short run.
I think Santorum is catching on to this aspect of his vulnerability, and by now he should realize that if Gingrich gets out, his own time on the stage won’t last much longer. Too many conservatives will decide to jump aboard the Romney express, being wary of Rick Santorum and the impression the establishment media has cultivated about Santorum. Some of it is deserved, and some of it isn’t, but that won’t matter if Gingrich exits any time soon, before Santorum will have had a chance to try to correct that record to the degree he is able. It will be a quick one-two blow and both Santorum and Gingrich should realize this and focus on Romney’s negatives, rather than pummeling one another.