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Is the Gingrich Campaign the Future of Primaries?

As regular readers of this site know, Via Meadia’s loyal interns help research and prepare the various posts that go up on the site. Normally as part of our policy of keeping the rising generation off-balance we kennel them in the dark on short rations when they aren’t actually writing for VM.

Frequent Via Meadia contributor Adam Clancy escaped our surveillance long enough to write a piece on why the Newt Gingrich primary campaign has run on so interminably. It’s up at The American Interest where you can read it and comment.

One of Adam’s key findings: it helps to have friends:

But as Gingrich found out all it now takes is the support of one billionaire to keep your campaign alive indefinitely. For Gingrich, that billionaire is the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam. Adelson donated $5 million to the floundering Gingrich campaign after Iowa. When that failed to resuscitate the campaign Miriam kicked in another $5 million in the lead-up to South Carolina. And as if to prove that casino owners can be just as profligate as their customers, Adelson donated another $5 million in mid-February after it became apparent that Gingrich’s win in South Carolina was not the game changer they had hoped it would be. All told, the Gingrich super PAC “Winning Our Future” raised $18.8 million through the end of February, of which the Adelsons contributed $16.5 million. It is fair to say that without the Adelsons’ largesse, enabled by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, Gingrich would have gone quietly into the good night. […]

Almost by definition, the only way a struggling candidate like Newt Gingrich can become relevant is to bring down the frontrunner. Gingrich decided to take the gloves off, and unlike in years past, the infusion of cash provided by Adelson allowed an also-ran like Gingrich to swing away. Romney suddenly began to resemble Gingrich’s personal punching bag and his favorability ratings declined precipitously. Romney’s campaign determined their candidate should refrain from hitting back because doing so would undermine his appeal to the kind of independents he needs to persuade in November. Romney had hoped to ignore Gingrich but after getting thumped by the portly Georgian in South Carolina he was forced to take seriously the Gingrich threat.

Unless Congress takes another crack at campaign finance reform, says Clancy, expect more primary campaigns like this one in the future: nasty, brutish, and long.

Read the whole thing here. We plan to continue giving our interns opportunities to try out their writing skills, and appreciate the readers who take the time to look at their work and respond with their candid views.

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  • Paul McCaffree

    Anytime Newt is in the conversation, there’s a very good chance the conversation will be benefited, so despite the dreams of ignorant leftist utopians, this is money well spent.

  • Paul McCaffree

    And i commend the guy who is spending the cashola.

  • Pincher Martin

    Mr Clancy is a careful and thoughtful writer, but I can’t agree with his political analysis.

    For all intents and purposes, Newt Gingrich was out of the race once the results from Super Tuesday were in. His ego just wouldn’t allow him to admit defeat. Even when a Catholic Yankee later beat him (and a Mormon Yankee nearly beat him) in Alabama and Mississippi, Gingrich still pressed on for reasons that are probably best left to psychologists.

    Even Newt’s victory in South Carolina was the result of several very fortunate circumstances that had little to do with Newt’s money situation.

    First, Rick Perry imploded. Perry had as much money as Newt and as strong an identification with the south, but his extremely poor campaign performance effectively took him out of the race once South Carolina rolled around.

    Second, Rick Santorum couldn’t take full advantage of his victory in Iowa because it was so narrow and, most importantly, too belatedly recognized to give him the full media exposure he needed. As Santorum later showed, he was a formidable campaigner in the south when he had time, a little money, and exposure. But he was a non-factor in South Carolina because he got so little credit for his Iowa victory.

    Third, Romney had his worst debate performances in the two weeks leading up to South Carolina’s primary, and Gingrich had among his best. Romney’s campaign was also very passive in the two weeks leading up to South Carolina, probably because they felt they had the nomination wrapped up after winning both Iowa (or so they thought) and New Hampshire.

    None of these things had much to do with the money Adelson gave to Gingrich. There are plenty of other examples of presidential candidates (John Connally, Phil Gramm) having huge sums of money and not doing very well in the primaries

  • Paul McCaffree

    Not only that but the challenge of a mind like Newt’s is to say no and also here is aa way that we all get richer — that’s not easy, that’s like beyond what most can comprehend.

  • Pincher Martin

    What is the real lesson of Newt’s 2012 campaign?

    With money, name recognition, and excellent skills in public speaking and debating, a weak presidential candidate can threaten a weak frontrunner.

    Before Iowa’s caucus, Newt was the eventual beneficiary of the Anyone-But-Romney phenomenon that previously made even marginal candidates like Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain rise high in the polls. Then Romney media-blitzed him just before the first-in-the-nation caucus and his artificially-high polling cratered.

    Newt regrouped and went on the attack in South Carolina. Without strong competition from either Rick Perry or Rick Santorum, his only serious competition in the southern state was a Mormon Yankee. Newt won handily. Thereafter, Romney’s campaign went negative again in Florida, and the former Speaker was easily beaten again. This time for good.

    What lesson do we learn from this? Not much, in my opinion. Newt was a weak presidential candidate, but he had enough compensating virtues to occasionally test a weak frontrunner before he effectively fell out of the race.

  • Larry, San Francisco

    Although this article had a negative assessment of the Citizen’s United Campaign, I think it actually shows the reverse. One way to think of a campaign is as a market place of ideas. Under the old campaign finance system this market place was difficult to enter. Large campaigns with large compliance staffs that could manipulate the finance laws in their favor had a huge advantage. Further the differences between soft money, hard money and the other peculiarities of campaign finance reform did not make reform less sleazy in the last 40 years. What is better about the new system is to get into the game a candidate only needs to convince a few or even sympathetic donor to stake him. Since I think that the ideology of potential large donors reflects the spectrum of political ideas (from right (say the Heartland Institute) to left (say the Tides foundation) this freedom can only cause an increase in the number of viable ideas in the political market place.
    For example, I supported and contributed money to Mickey Kaus’s quixotic (liberal anti-blue) Senate campaign against the brain dead Barbara Boxer. With limited funds he only got a small percent of his votes. It is possible that if he had a larger commitment from a wealthy donor he may have been able gather 15% to 20% of the vote. This may have shaken up the California Democratic party which definitely needs a wake up call.
    Having a somewhat nastier primary process seems to me to be only a small price to pay.

  • Luke Lea

    The Citizens United decision seems to have something to do with this — or is it merely a coincidence?

  • Mark Michael

    “It is fair to say that without the Adelsons’ largesse, enabled by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, Gingrich would have gone quietly into the good night.”

    The Citizens United ruling only applied to corporations, not to individuals. The Adelsons’ giving to Gingrich, I believe, was as individuals, not from some corporation, hence it was legal before Citizens United case was ruled by SCOTUS. In fact, individuals could give unlimited sums to PACs going back to the 1970s. George Soros gave many millions to John Kerry in the 2004 election as an example.

    Yes, the NYT and other legacy media that are “in the tank” for Obama and the D’s have repeatedly implied this. So it’s understandable that the newbie intern fell for it, but it’s still incorrect!

  • Jim.

    So is the argument here that we would prefer a primary system where only the first few states matter, and the winner is decided without the vast majority of the country getting to pull the lever one way or another?

    Or is the solution to have everyone vote at once, so that (like ObamaCare) we have to make give them power before we know what’s in them?

    Or how about we go back to the oh-so-democratic situation of the party machines picking our candidates for us?

    And, getting into the guy-on-the-ground-at-the-time realities of history in detail — is Adam proposing that just anyone — Carter, say? — would act the same way as Gingrich did, given a rich backer?

    Honestly, I was deeply skeptical of Citizens United when the Court found that corporations were “people”. (I still am. In fact, I’d still support a Constitutional Amendment that said, simply, “Corporations are not people”.)

    But when it’s turning out that more names are on the ballot farther and farther into the primary season, when it’s turning out that the election isn’t a “momentum”-driven foregone conclusion before California gets to vote, I’m beginning to think that its effects aren’t so bad.

    As long as you can find one rich person who’s in agreement with you — not a bad bet, as rich folks run the gamut, politically, from Soros to Koch — your message can get out there. It won’t guarantee you the election — see the number of votes Giuliani’s expenditures got him in 2008. But if the electorate buys into it and rewards you with votes, the electorate can take you from long shot to frontrunner.

    This doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me.

  • Andrew Allison

    One expects better of Via Media interns. Not only were the Adelson’s contributions individual, making the Citizens United decision irrelevant, but the case itself simply leveled the playing field: if it’s OK for a union to contribute, it should be OK for a corporation to do so; neither union members nor stockholders have any say in the decision.

  • Andrea Ostrov Letania

    Gingrich the mad dog found his master and is still being fed.

  • Gary L

    It sounds like the future of primaries will be very like the past of primaries, circa 1968. According to legend, when the sainted Senator Eugene McCarthy declared his candidacy in opposition to LBJ’s Vietnam War, his NH primary success was effected by thousands of idealistic Clean for Gene student activists making the scene for peace.

    The reality is a little more prosaic, as political reality so often is. John Samples of the Cato Institute reports

    McCarthy needed money to finance his campaign. He got it. McCarthy received several six-figure donations from affluent individuals deeply opposed to the war in Vietnam. Herbert Alexander, a leading campaign finance expert, estimates that about one-third of McCarthy’s total fundraising in 1968 came from just 50 large donors. David Hoeh, the organizer of McCarthy’s New Hampshire campaign, recalled later that a single “financial angel” saved their media effort at a crucial point.

    McCarthy spent the money effectively in spreading his anti-war message. The McCarthy campaign devoted $110,000 to radio and television in New Hampshire and over $150,000 on all communications media in that primary. That does not seem like much today. In those days such sums were large enough to get McCarthy into the presidential game, large enough to all but defeat a sitting president, and begin the winding down of the Vietnam War.

    It meant that McCarthy didn’t have to devote so much time to fundraising, the bane of every candidate in the post-Watergate era. Throughout American history, most presidential candidates were financially backed by a small and generous faction. IMO, the ideal system would be one where there were no limits on what an individual or group could contribute to a political campaign, along with absolute transparency, so everyone would know where candidates were drawing their financial support. The fact that it would generate boycotts and buycotts out the wazoo would be the only significant drawback that I can see.

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