The PJ Tatler

What's Next for Newt?

Mitt Romney’s clean sweep on Tuesday robbed Newt Gingrich of the talking point he hoped to take out of a victory in Delaware. Instead, he finished a distant second there, and Delaware being a winner-take-all state, will not walk away with a single delegate for all his efforts there. The former House speaker is now in North Carolina, pledging to keep to his 23 scheduled events in the state ahead of its May 8 primary, while also reassessing his campaign.

For weeks, while Rick Santorum was still in the race, Gingrich pinned his hopes on building a winning run across the south, to make the case that he is the candidate of the GOP base states. After winning his home state of Georgia on March 6, Gingrich hoped to take the primaries in Louisiana and Texas, the latter carrying 155 delegates. Instead, on March 24, Santorum won Louisiana (Gingrich finished third there) and looked to be consolidating a lead in the Lone Star State.

With Santorum’s exit from the race on April 10, Gingrich might have been expected to place more emphasis on winning Texas. But a new PPP poll (caveat: PPP leans left and had a poll find that President Obama led Gov. Perry here a while back) contains some very bad news for Newt: Santorum’s departure has caused a rally toward Romney:

If Newt Gingrich was going to win a big victory anywhere between now and the Republican convention Texas would be a logical candidate…but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Mitt Romney leads the state with 45% to 35% for Newt Gingrich and 14% for Ron Paul.

Texas really shows the extent to which GOP voters have unified around Romney over the last few weeks. When we polled the state in January Republicans were evenly divided in their feelings about him with 44% rating him favorably and 44% giving him poor marks. Now his favorability is a +43 spread at 66/23. That’s very much indicative of people jumping on board the train.

There’s a few things in the crosstabs that really stand out. Romney’s winning Tea Party voters by a 44-38 spread. But he’s still losing Evangelicals to Gingrich by a 45-40 margin. That’s indicative of those voters still being somewhat tepid toward Romney and while there’s little chance those folks would go for Barack Obama in the fall, Romney does need to worry at least a bit about whether they’re going to come out at all.

Ron Paul’s headed for an embarrassing performance in his home state. Only 37% of Texas Republicans have a favorable opinion of him to 48% with a negative one and his chances of hitting 20% even with most of the rest of the field out of the picture look minimal.

Gingrich and Paul are staying in, at this point, for different reasons. Paul knows that he will not be the nominee; he is staying in to build a movement within the party for the future. Gingrich is ostensibly staying in as the last true conservative, but most conservative voters have already reconciled themselves to Mitt Romney as the nominee. Gingrich carries much of the same policy baggage as Romney, including past support for cap and trade, and for an individual health insurance mandate. It has been Romney’s campaign that has been effectively pushing back against Obama’s inane attacks. And it has been Romney’s campaign that has been growing nationally while Gingrich’s campaign has atrophied. It was Romney who defined the race after winning the five states on Tuesday: “It’s still about the economy, and we’re not stupid.” Mitt Romney signaled that he will run a disciplined campaign that will focus on Obama’s abysmal economic record.

As he reassesses his campaign, Gingrich surely has to factor in three key points: The Gingrich campaign has whittled down to a skeleton crew, it is deeply in debt, and it has not won a seriously contested primary since South Carolina, on January 21. Here’s a fourth key factor: The delegate math is rapidly adding up to an easy Romney win for the nomination.

Gingrich has cast himself as the statesman running on big ideas. The biggest idea of this campaign for any Republican has to be defeating Barack Obama. It’s clear now, or should be, that Gingrich is simply not equipped to do that. As I write this, the Gingrich campaign sends out word that it will suspend next week. Why wait?