Ron Paul in the driver’s seat

Newt Gin­grich might not be happy with the con­ven­tion he seeks

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - By David A. Keene

One thing you have to give Newt Gin­grich: The man can turn. On a dime. Be­fore the votes were counted in Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama on Tues­day, the for­mer House speaker had come up with a whole new ra­tio­nale for his can­di­dacy. The can­di­date who af­ter South Carolina sug­gested that Rick San­to­rum needed to get out be­cause he was split­ting the “an­tiRom­ney” vote in a way that could cost Mr. Gin­grich the nom­i­na­tion now sug­gests that he and the Penn­syl­va­nian are a po­lit­i­cal tag team work­ing to­gether to keep Mitt Rom­ney from col­lect­ing the 1,144 del­e­gates he’ll need to wrap up the nom­i­na­tion at the GOP Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Tampa.

Mr. San­to­rum, who has sup­planted Mr. Gin­grich as Mr. Rom­ney’s main chal­lenger, now looks at the world in much the way Mr. Gin­grich did af­ter South Carolina. He hasn’t been quite as up­front about sug­gest­ing that Mr. Gin­grich ought to clear the field for him, but he is nei­ther talk­ing nor act­ing like a man who sees him­self as part of a Gin­grich-san­to­rum tag team. He is talk­ing like a can­di­date who be­lieves he’ll win if he can get a clear shot at the front-run­ner.

He may or may not be right. A num­ber of poll­sters are sug­gest­ing that if Mr. Gin­grich or Mr. San­to­rum gets out, the sur­vivor will get 60 per­cent to 70 per­cent of the other’s vote. If that’s true — and it might be in the heav­ily evan­gel­i­cal South — a one-on-one race with ei­ther could em­bar­rass or even crip­ple Mr. Rom­ney.

How­ever, the same may not hold in other states where vot­ers who pre­fer ei­ther Mr. Gin­grich or Mr. San­to­rum find Mr. Rom­ney an ac­cept­able can­di­date him­self. Some of Mr. Gin­grich’s sup­port­ers will find Mr. Rom­ney more ac­cept­able than Mr. San­to­rum for prac­ti­cal po­lit­i­cal rea­sons and be­cause they, like Mr. Gin­grich, seem to think it is Mr. San­to­rum rather than Mr. Rom­ney who stands be­tween their man and the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.

The next ma­jor con­test will be held Tues­day in Illi­nois. Mr. Rom­ney is fa­vored there, but not by as much as he might like. Last week­end’s Wgn/chicago Tri­bune poll had Mr. Rom­ney win­ning over Mr. San­to­rum 35 per­cent to 31 per­cent, with Mr. Gin­grich trail­ing at 12 per­cent. Mr. Rom­ney has tended to fin­ish strong in Mid­west­ern state pri­maries, and his ads are just be­gin­ning to hit out there, so his to­tal should in­crease by Tues­day.

As­sume for a mo­ment that Mr. Gin­grich bails out be­tween now and Tues­day. This isn’t likely to hap­pen, but in pol­i­tics, any­thing is pos­si­ble. If two-thirds of the vot­ers now in his camp move over to Mr. San­to­rum, with the other third go­ing to Mr. Rom­ney, the can­di­dates would be tied at 39-39. At first blush, this seems great news for the Penn­syl­va­nian, but it sug­gests that noth­ing else will change be­tween now and Tues­day, that there will be no cam­paign-gen­er­ated move­ment.

But be­cause Mr. Rom­ney’s neg­a­tive ads ac­cen­tu­ate the very same things that Mr. Gin­grich has been telling vot­ers are wrong with Mr. San­to­rum, more of those vot­ers than are be­ing pre­dicted could go not to Mr. San­to­rum, but to Mr. Rom­ney. If Mr. Rom­ney were to beat Mr. San­to­rum in a head-to-head con­test, the out­come very well could pro­vide the Rom­ney cam­paign with the mo­men­tum it has not yet seemed able to gen­er­ate.

Re­mem­ber, Mr. Rom­ney will have won in Puerto Rico a few days be­fore and will not be ar­gu­ing his case to the siz­able evan­gel­i­cal blocs that have stood in his way in the South. Illi­nois is a dif­fer­ent place, and the cam­paign there is about jobs and the econ­omy, Mr. Rom­ney’s strong­est is­sues.

So, while Mr. San­to­rum may not like it, Mr. Gin­grich may be right. If he stays in the race, the two of them could de­prive Mr. Rom­ney of a clear ma­jor­ity vic­tory even in a state like Illi­nois. Yet Mr. Rom­ney con­tin­ues to pile up del­e­gates (nei­ther Mr. Gin­grich nor Mr. San­to­rum is field­ing a full slate in Illi­nois) and while this may be the most bor­ing route to the nom­i­na­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to see how the Gin­grich-san­to­rum tag team can de­rail it.

As­sume that some­how they do deny Mr. Rom­ney the ma­jor­ity he needs go­ing into Tampa. If the con­ven­tion dead­locks hope­lessly and goes sev­eral bal­lots, all three could get shut out by a com­pro­mise can­di­date. Mr. Rom­ney could break up the tag team by deal­ing with one of them, or he could open talks with the man who is rarely men­tioned.

Ron Paul keeps chug­ging along like the lit­tle en­gine that could. He won’t win and won’t be on any­one’s ticket, but he could con­trol a block of del­e­gates that could break the dead­lock, and one sus­pects — con­spir­acy the­o­ries aside — that he might find the man from Mas­sachusetts less ob­jec­tion­able than the other two.

This isn’t likely to hap­pen, but Mr. Gin­grich might want to think about how he’d deal with the lib­er­tar­ian from Texas if he gets the bro­kered con­ven­tion he seeks.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY LI­NAS GARSYS

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