It was unbelievable: As soon as Newt Gingrich failed to win both Alabama and Mississippi in the GOP race for president, most members of the mainstream media and political strategists with whom I talked readily admitted, off the record, that he was the most qualified among the Republican candidates to serve as president. Now these are objective pros that have been around presidential politics for years. I have no doubt they were telling me the truth because these folks only tell you this stuff when it is relatively clear that the candidate is no longer a viable alternative.
The Gingrich campaign is pushing the concept that, by staying in the contest, Speaker Gingrich could help take away enough delegates to deprive Mitt Romney the numbers needed to have the GOP nomination locked up by the time the candidates reach the convention in Tampa, Fla. Obviously, as a lifelong friend of Gingrich's, I am not going to argue with their decision to press forward. Their frustration is that their candidate knows more about foreign policy and defense matters in his little finger than the other two leading candidates know in their entire body. It is likely they find it incredible that a man who could outdebate Barack Obama in virtually any format is now in this predicament. I don't blame them if they feel this way.
But the reality is that no camp agrees with any other camp's delegate math. Romney, who has spent a fortune to amass his delegates, believes the numbers suggest that he will have no problem locking the nomination up by or before the last contested state. And that may well be true. The fact that Romney continues to gather delegates in areas he himself considers "away games" suggests that his staying power might just deliver a requisite number of delegates before the convention. It could be a tiny margin, and it will have cost not just tons of money, but the support of candidates who have taken his multimillion-dollar "carpet bombing" in the various states very personally.
As for Santorum, his camp believes their best chance is for Gingrich to exit stage left and allow there to become a consolidation of "conservative" voters who, by their calculations, would leave Romney pulling his usual 35 percent in most states and give Santorum huge wins in critical upcoming contests.
That sounds great for Santorum, but it might not work out as planned. Unless Santorum received an outright endorsement from Gingrich, a portion of Newt's votes might stray to Romney. Analysis of polling shows that Gingrich does well among longtime Republicans who consider themselves conservative. Those supporters might embrace Romney as an alternative.
The truth is no one knows what will happen. But for my friend Newt there are certain things I hope will take place. First, I hope that if the money starts to truly disappear, he will scale his efforts back appropriately. That does not necessarily mean leaving the race, but it does mean picking and choosing battles and making sure that the end result of those battles will not be disastrous. The second thing I hope he will do is start to put aside any personal feelings he might have toward any of his fellow candidates. It appears he is well on his way as to Santorum. But it is also clear that the path toward and relationship with Romney seems rocky.
And really, who has the responsibility to repair that relationship? The answer is Mitt Romney. If Romney's math is right and he does get the GOP nomination, he is insane to believe that followers of Gingrich or Santorum will flock to the polls to support him. He would need Gingrich, Santorum, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann on his team to have a prayer of not repeating a "John McCain, Part Two." Oh, and add to that Sarah Palin, whose voice has only been made stronger in recent weeks.
No, I would not ask Newt to leave the race. I have seen his seemingly impossible schemes work too many times. But what I would ask of the other two major GOP candidates would be to show this man some damn respect. He has earned it, and they will need him in November ... if not sooner.
Matt Towery is author of the book "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. Follow him on Twitter @matttowery. To find out more about Matt Towery and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.