Flashback to Bloodletting: Why Newt Gingrich’s Troubles Today Are Not Necessarily the End

Jun 9, 2011 7:26pm

ABC News' Amy Walter, Arlette Saenz and Bret Hovell report:

It’s been a bad three weeks for Newt Gingrich.

First he angered many Republicans when he criticized Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which is being held sacrosanct by many of the primary voters he’s trying to woo.

Then he drew criticism for having $500,000 in debt with the luxury jeweler Tiffany's.

And let’s not forget the glitter incident. Perhaps to get away from the difficult start to his campaign, Gingrich went on a one-week trip to the Greek Isles, which brought criticism that he wasn't campaigning hard enough.

Today’s en masse desertion of most of his top campaign aides would seem to spell the end of Gingrich's campaign.

After all, if the people you have hired to run your campaign no longer believe in you, what does that say to the voters?

But don’t write off the former Speaker of the House too quickly. There’s precedent for recovery after a summer implosion in an off year of the cycle.

After all, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, parted ways with five of his top presidential staffers in July of 2007.

His campaign was written off for dead by some political watchers, his political obituary had been copy-checked in newsrooms across the country.

And yet he went on to surprise everyone by winning the Republican nomination in 2008.

Flashback: It was Tuesday, July 10, 2007, when McCain’s campaign manager, Terry Nelson, and one of his closest political advisors, John Weaver, resigned the campaign abruptly, along with three members of the communications staff.

The issue came down to money: the campaign was broke, and McCain was reported to be furious over the profligate spending.

And so began the senior staff shuffle. Rick Davis became the new campaign manager and McCain went back on the road in earnest – spending most of his limited resources in the early primary state of New Hampshire.

The campaign was pared way back.

During his announcement tour in April of 2007, less than three months before the implosion, McCain had flown cross country in a Gulfstream jet.

Now, more often than not, he was checking himself in for Southwest Airlines flights to Manchester, often with only one aide in tow. 

McCain and his staff stayed primarily in a Courtyard by Marriott in the capital of Concord, and drove from town to town on a long-in-the-tooth campaign bus with the Straight Talk Express logo emblazoned on the side.

He leaned back on what had been his signature campaign event when he won the Granite State in 2000 – the town hall meeting – and drove from village to village answering questions from anyone who would ask.

And it seemed to work. McCain came in fourth in the Iowa caucuses, but won the New Hampshire primary, propelling him to a victory in South Carolina, and, crucially, Florida in the weeks ahead.

Another parallel to Gingrich’s staff shakeup today is that McCain had been out of town immediately prior to the budget meetings that led to the departures of his senior staff members.

The only difference is that McCain was traveling on a Congressional Delegation trip to Iraq in the week before his staff shakeup. Gingrich was with his wife Callista on a cruise in Greece.

The most important question for any candidate in the midst of an implosion: can they do what it takes to get their campaign back on track?

For Gingrich, this is more than just getting his campaign operation back on track.

It would mean making a serious and significant change to his own behavior. Can he exhibit the kind of discipline, focus and dedication it takes to run a winning campaign?

This is even more important given the fact that Gingrich is already perceived by many in his own party as lacking the temperament required of a president.

According to ABC/Washington Post polling, 39 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Gingrich does not have the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president – a large group to lose on so basic a qualification. An additional 11 percent, moreover, are uncertain. 

Finally, McCain was much better positioned than Gingrich to come back.

A poll taken in April of 2007 by ABC/Washington Post saw McCain in second place among the GOP field with 21 percent. Rudy Giuliani was in first place with 33 percent.

Gingrich, however, is taking just 6 percent support among leaned Republicans for his party’s nomination, putting him in the midst of the single-digit scrum, with Romney and Palin in the lead. And, he can't blame his low standing in the polls on lack of name ID.

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