Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign hit a major snag right out of the gate: In May, he alienated conservatives by criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as “right-wing social engineering” during an appearance on “Meet the Press.” Less than one month later, citing disagreements over campaign strategy, many of Gingrich’s top campaign staffers bolted for presumably greener pastures. To say that the former House speaker’s presidential bid was left for dead by early summer would be an understatement.
But five months later, thanks to his solid debate performances, his opponents’ mistakes and the good deal of anti-Romney sentiment within the Republican base, Gingrich finds himself leading in the national polls for the GOP nomination.
While former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is still the odds-on favorite to win his party’s presidential nomination next year, Gingrich could pull it out. So what does Gingrich have to do to become his party’s standard-bearer in 2012?
Stay on message: Gingrich has a tendency to be his own worst enemy on the campaign trail. His recent comments on child labor laws and illegal immigration are evidence of his inability to stay on message at crucial times. He may be the smartest guy in the room, but there are times when he simply needs to put the brakes on his mouth. For someone with so many ideas swirling around in his head, that could be an extremely difficult endeavor.
Demonstrate organizational tenacity: Currently, Gingrich has significant leads in the Iowa, South Carolina and Florida nominating contests. However, his campaign is short on both cash and assets on the ground in many of the early primary states, which will make it very hard to convert these polling numbers into votes. Organizationally, Gingrich is certainly going to have to do more with less if he is to have a realistic shot at winning the nomination.
Win the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primary in January: The key to winning the GOP nomination is momentum, and while Gingrich currently has momentum, he must maintain it for a significant period of time. Unfortunately for Gingrich, this could be difficult given that there have been some noteworthy changes to next year’s Republican presidential primary calendar. As The New York Times’s Nate Silver notes, there is a significant lull between the opening nominating contests in January and Super Tuesday on March 6. Given this prolonged break (Michigan and Arizona will hold contests on February 28), Team Gingrich must come out of the chute like gangbusters and score victories in the Hawkeye State and Palmetto State in order to accrue the campaign funds Gingrich needs to wage a drawn-out campaign. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if Gingrich captured the Florida primary as well.
Gingrich’s odds of winning the nomination are long, but if he can pull off this trifecta, he could defy the skeptics and become the ultimate Romney roadblock. Only time will tell if he can actually deliver.