Gingrich Camp: Picturing Newt's Convention Ascension

PHOTO: Newt Gingrich gives a thumbs up sign to supporters after speaking to the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce at the Vestavia Hills Country Club March 13, 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama.Win McNamee/Getty Images
Newt Gingrich gives a thumbs up sign to supporters after speaking to the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce at the Vestavia Hills Country Club March 13, 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama.

If it were up to Newt Gingrich, when Republicans gather for the 4-day party that is their national convention in August, the GOP will remain divided.

Having cut one-third of his staff after poor primary contests and lackluster fundraising, the long-shot candidate's hopes of becoming the Republican nominee for president now rest entirely on the other candidates. Namely, that no other candidate gets enough delegates to lock in the nomination.

That scenario will open up the possibility of a "brokered" convention in August, one in which any of the candidates can win.

Slim though the odds of that happening may be, a busted convention could deepen the wounds opened by two key primary voting groups: those who like Mitt Romney and those who think he's too moderate for the Republican Party.

Yet Gingrich's supporters think that a convention fight would not only help the former House speaker, but that it would even help the party by stirring up more interest and enthusiasm for the outcome.

"Hopefully, we're looking at a convention that has a little more excitement than every past one that I've been to," said former Rep. Bob Barr, who has endorsed Gingrich. "You've got these conventions, and everybody knows exactly what's going to happen, and it's just an opportunity to hang out with people, and that's fine, and hear some speeches, some of which are better than others. But, you know, there's no excitement and very little interest beyond anointing a predetermined candidate."

Right now that predetermined candidate would be Romney. Though some Republicans have questioned the establishment candidate, given what seems to be his inability to lock up the nomination quickly and fend off fringe candidates like Rick Santorum, the former Massachusetts governor's path has certainly become clearer after recent wins.

His conservative challengers have still vowed to block him at every turn, and right-wing figures -- as well as more and more tea party members -- have smiled at the idea of a convention in which Romney hasn't collected the 1,144 delegates needed to anoint him as the general election candidate.

"The focus that we've traditionally annunciated for a convention — 'Oh, it's time to come together, we need to smooth things over, we can't have any dissension' — is perhaps some of the reason that in recent elections, we haven't done that well," Barr said. "We still have very much an open field out there. ... A lot of Republicans don't feel comfortable with Romney as the nominee."

Unfortunately for Gingrich, a lot of Republicans actually do feel comfortable with Romney, at least those in the powerful establishment that has been challenged by the tea party and social conservatives like Santorum.

In a CNN poll this week, 60 percent of Republicans said Gingrich should drop out. Romney was a clear favorite, winning 36 percent in the survey, 10 points higher than his closest opponent, Santorum. Gingrich's allies, meanwhile, use similar figures to argue that a majority of Republicans don't want Romney (Gingrich got 15 percent and Ron Paul got 17 percent).

"There will be a crazy fight if Romney doesn't get enough votes, but it looks like he's going to," Kevin Hassett, who was John McCain's senior economic adviser in the 2008 campaign, said of the convention in Tampa.

Any rift that would have the potential to disrupt the GOP would have to be based on policy differences, not the candidates' personalities, Hassett said — and their policy proposals aren't varied enough to rise to the forefront. Though he suggested that any battle that might happen in Tampa would be resolved quickly once the party fixates on Obama, a president many Republicans view as divisive and a harbinger of government intervention.

"The Republicans could nominate virtually anyone and then have an energized and united party behind them once they start running against Obama," Hassett said.

Winning Our Future, the "super PAC" supporting Gingrich that has been funded by the billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, says it has no plans to change the direction of its pro-Gingrich advertising strategy even as the candidate eyes Tampa — though the group could shift from targeting primary voters to rounding up delegates in a whip style reminiscent of votes in Congress.

A senior adviser to the PAC, Rick Tyler, said that it could become "more focused on communicating more directly with the delegates."

"I've never looked at us as one thing or the other," Tyler said when asked about the nature of the super PAC's money-focused operations. "I've always felt that we have the mandate to do what is necessary."

The mechanics of Gingrich's campaign strategy rely heavily on a handful of unlikely scenarios tipping in his favor. He needs enough money to stay a candidate (which is harder than it may seem even with a better-off super PAC and personal wealth he might not want to use); he probably needs to win at least one more primary state to argue that he's viable, though it's unclear which state that would be (Delaware? North Carolina?); he needs Romney to fail at getting 1,144 delegates by the end of the primaries; and he needs to use the two months between the last primary, Utah, and the convention, to persuade delegates that he's the best candidate to challenge Obama, according to a person familiar with the campaign.

If all of that were to miraculously come together, Gingrich's camp sees an opportunity to reset the debate to focus on a raw discussion of issues, that person said.

"I do think that one could make a plausible argument that because of the fact that Governor Romney's nowhere near 1,144, he's had more than a million people vote against him than have voted for him, I think you could make a plausible argument that the strategy that the speaker is deploying is plausible," said former Rep. J.C. Watts, who has endorsed Gingrich and spoke with a campaign adviser on Tuesday.

"If this thing goes to the convention," Watts said, "I'm aiming for getting the popcorn and Coke concessions."