The wheels appear to be coming off of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. After a series of post-announcement gaffes, the most serious of which appears to be attacking House Budget chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI-1) federal fiscal plan, more than 10 campaign consultants and staff members yesterday resigned from the Gingrich effort. The spokesman for the group indicated they were leaving because the departing staff members all saw a different strategic path to achieve victory than does the candidate.
The key factor influencing the mass exit appears to be a lack of fundraising progress. Reports say that after Gingrich’s attack on the Ryan budget, fundraising became exceeding difficult for the presidential effort because the candidate cut the heart out of his political base. Additionally, Mr. Gingrich himself was apparently unwilling to participate in donor recruitment efforts to the degree that the staff wanted, hence the failure to meet campaign budgetary goals.
There were further rumors alluding to Gingrich not working particularly hard on this campaign. The departing staffers’ spokesman, news secretary Rick Tyler, said such conjecture was untrue but did confirm the former Speaker and his wife are embarking on a two-week Mediterranean cruise, the timing of which was criticized internally.
Two of those resigning, consultant David Carney and campaign manager Rob Johnson, came from Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s organization. With rumors and speculation mounting that Perry may soon enter the race, it is an obvious conclusion that at least these two will go back to anchor their former boss’ presidential effort. Some have further speculated that Perry’s budding effort precipitated the Gingrich staff departure, but this does not appear to be the case. Since the departing group is so large it is unreasonable to believe that all are bolting Gingrich to join Perry. Dissatisfaction with the progression of the campaign can be the only reason for such a mass exodus.
So what does this development mean for the ex-Speaker’s presidential bid? According to Mr. Gingrich, the campaign begins anew next week and he will continue to fight for the Republican nomination.
In many ways, Newt Gingrich is an unconventional candidate. Therefore, the things that would derail most political efforts will not necessarily extinguish the Gingrich campaign. Though money is necessary to run any political operation, and presidential campaigns both attract and spend the greatest amount of cash resources, a national candidate can often times go relatively far without huge financial assets. Gingrich, with his almost universal name ID, may be in that category. Attracting as much news coverage as he does, the former Speaker has the ability to communicate his message even if he doesn’t spend heavily on paid advertisements or direct mail programs.
A presidential campaign that puts little emphasis on resources can do reasonably well in small primary states like New Hampshire and South Carolina, but caucus states are in a different category, as are big primary states like California, Florida and Texas. Organizational efforts in caucus states like Iowa do require heavy staff coordination and expenditures to identify, convince, and turnout supporters who must attend actual meetings to cast their votes instead of simply marking a ballot. Though well-known candidates who de-emphasize fundraising and campaign mechanics attract a fair amount of attention, such a person rarely, if ever, wins the nomination or election.
In early polling, Mr. Gingrich has consistently polled at the bottom of the first tier of candidates. Without a professional campaign structure committed to campaign mechanics, however, it is likely he will drop into the second tier and out of serious contention for the nomination. The new Gingrich operation will certainly be a campaign of ideas, but not of implementation. The collapse of his organization means the overall race becomes an even more wide open contest.
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