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Give it up, Newt

Santorum did what Gingrich should have weeks ago

Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012 5:00 a.m. CST

And then there was one.

Well, two. Wait — make that three. Yep, three.

A Republican presidential primary that had been, for all intents and purposes, over for weeks really ended Tuesday when Rick Santorum suspended his campaign. That leaves Mitt Romney as the only candidate with a nonzero chance to secure the GOP nomination.

Still, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are pressing on. Within hours of Santorm’s announcement, both had publicly declared their intentions to stay “in” the “race.” Despite the fact that the latest Washington Post/ABC news poll had Paul getting 13 percent of the vote and Gingrich a meager 10, they’ll continue to pretend they have a chance.

That Paul would press on is unsurprising. He has about as much chance of winning the nomination now as he had when he first entered the race, which is about the same chance he’ll have when Romney officially becomes Barack Obama’s opponent in August.

Paul is 76 years old. This is likely it for his political career. He already opted to forego an attempt at re-election for his spot in the U.S. House of Representatives. And he certainly beats to his own drum, politically and otherwise. What’s he got to lose by seeing this thing out to the finish and being a hero for some with libertarian views?

I’m not sure that Gingrich has a whole lot to lose, either, by staying in the race, but I also fail to see what he might gain. Since he started to slide in the polls in December, things have gotten increasingly bleak for the Gingrich campaign. That he was three points behind a fringe candidate like Paul is telling.

With 1,152 delegates remaining, Gingrich has secured 136, less than half of the 285 delegates Santorum earned before leaving the race and light years behind Romney’s 661. Even Paul has 51 delegates in his pocket.

If Gingrich wants to make the argument that he can get back in the race now that he and Santorum aren’t fighting over the uberconservative vote, it doesn’t hold water. Even if Gingrich received all of Santorum’s delegates (he won’t — 197 are still required to vote Santorum at the Republican National Convention; the rest will vote for whomever they choose), he would still be 240 behind Romney. And even if you ceded everyone that the Washington Post most recently polled that said they would vote for Santorum to Gingrich, Romney would still have nearly a double-digit lead.

Still the writing had been on the wall for Gingrich for some time, and he had consistently said he would fight to the finish. After Santorum caved in to the inevitable Tuesday, Gingrich refused to do the same. “I am committed to staying in this race all the way to Tampa so that the conservative movement has a real choice,” Gingrich said, according to CNN.

Gingrich gave the predictable and cliched reasons for staying in the race — a desire to “protect life, defend the Constitution, restore jobs and growth and return to a balanced budget” as he says only a conservative can. Wanting to do all of those things is well and good, but they can’t be done if you can’t become president, and Gingrich can’t become president. He has to know that.

Maybe Gingrich will, like Paul might, be done with politics completely when the final scoops of dirt are finally shoveled on his campaign. He’s 68 years old. Perhaps he’s already decided that when this is over, it’s time to retire from public life and devote himself to being the consummate family man to his third wife.

Then again, Gingrich could probably continue the improbable revitalization of his career if he wanted it. In the years after his tenure as Speaker of the House ended in 1999, I almost forgot about Gingrich. A few years ago, I’d have considered it virtually impossible that he’d be leading the polls in the race for the 2012 presidential nomination, as he was in November.

Heck, when I first found out that Gingrich was entering the race, I never thought Gingrich would have a prayer of leading the polls, even for a fleeting moment in time. I thought we’d all have some jokes at his expense and he’d quickly disappear back into the shadows. He was much more viable than I ever thought him capable of being.

One-time viability is not cause, however, to drag out a campaign well past the point where all hope is lost. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry all had their moments in the sun, too. They all had the good sense to get out of the way when the inevitable became obvious. True, they didn’t get to this point, in terms of money spent or of energy expended. But neither, it could be argued, should have Gingrich.

If Santorum, who was a much more viable challenger to Romney much more recently than Gingrich, no longer saw pressing forward as being worth it, why does Gingrich? Why can’t he graciously step aside the way the others did? None of them seemed to like Romney much more than he does, but like him or not, he will represent the GOP on the November ballot.

I understand that this can’t be easy for Gingrich, not that it was for any of the other GOP candidates who have gone by the wayside. He may or may not run for public office again in the future, but this is almost certainly the closest he’ll ever come to being president.

Letting go isn’t easy, Newt, but it was the right thing to do several weeks ago. With every day that passes, what was once a pretty valiant effort is become more and more of the good-for-yucks sideshow I expected in the beginning.

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