The Other McCain

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Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Eyewitness to History in Florida

Posted on | April 6, 2012 | 22 Comments

Newt Gingrich in Fort Myers, Florida, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012

“Well, it’s past 2:30 now, so I’d better get over to the airport. Let’s hope the Gingrich people don’t sic the cops on me.”
Robert Stacy McCain, Jan. 30, 2012

How many readers remember the day I covered a Newt Gingrich rally in Fort Myers, Florida? That was the Monday day before the primary and I filed my column for The American Spectator that night from a McDonald’s on Colonial Drive, near Page Field, where Newt had flown in for an event with Michael Reagan and Herman Cain in the airport parking lot. It was a historic day, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Yesterday, I did some research and discovered that Gingrich and his entourage were flying around Florida that day aboard a 16-seat Gulfstream IV jet. And what made Jan. 30 so historic was that on that day, according to their Federal Election Commission report, Newt’s campaign spent $970,826.77.

That was the peak — the pinnacle, the acme, the zenith — of Gingrich’s campaign spending. On no other day throughout the course of his entire campaign did Newt 2012 spend more money than on Jan. 30.

Not only that, but comparing reported estimates of attendance at Newt’s five rallies that day, the crowd at Fort Myers — which I estimated between 250 and 300 — may have been the biggest. In all, on that day when Gingrich hit his spending peak, his combined audience for all five events totalled fewer than 1,500 people.

And his campaign spent $970,826.77.

That amount was more than twice what Gingrich’s campaign collected on its best day of fundraising. On Jan. 22, the day after he won the South Carolina primary, Newt reported contributions of $403,164.

In case you don’t remember, Jan. 22 was a Sunday, and I was driving back home with my 13-year-old son Jefferson after a week spent covering the South Carolina primary campaign. We stopped in at a McDonald’s at Rock Hill, S.C., so I could do one more post from the Palmetto State. My wife called to tell me that, due to some wacky miscalculation or technological glitch, our bank account balance was near zero, and it was by no means certain that my remaining cash would buy enough gas to enable us to make it home to Maryland more than 400 miles away.

That crisis threatened a premature end to my campaign-trail travels, and it was therefore with a sense of desperation that I posted a “Memo from the National Affairs Desk” from that McDonald’s in Rock Hill:

How the hell am I going to make it to Florida? I’ve got press credentials for Thursday’s CNN debate in Jacksonville, but unless there is some kind of miracle between now and then, there’s no way I’ll be able to buy a plane ticket. Only the most frantic rattling of the tip jar can make it happen.

You came through, guys. Four days later, on Jan. 26, I flew out to Jacksonville to cover the CNN debate, and took note of this headline:

Gingrich Pledges To Establish
Permanent Base On The Moon
‘By The End Of My Second Term’

Yeah. Good luck with that plan, huh?

That Thursday night at the debate, I was wearing my Florida shirt (purchased at a nearby Goodwill store) in the media filing center:

Santorum left Jacksonville and went home to visit his hospitalized 3-year-old daughter, Bella. Meanwhile, I covered two Romney rallies — Friday in Orlando and Sunday in Naples, where I spent the weekend in a posh condo owned by Dan Collins’s parents — and then, on that history Monday, I drove to Fort Myers to cover the Gingrich rally.

Memories? It’s all kind of a blur now. If it weren’t for the daily account of these travels here on the blog and in my American Spectator columns, I’d never be able to re-assemble a simple chronology, much less remember little details about where I bought that crazy shirt.

And yet, despite all the madness and desperation, I was there — The Man on the Scene — the day Newt’s doomed presdiential bid hit its peak.

The $970,826.77 Gingrich’s campaign spent that day was equal to 17.4% of the $5.6 million Gingrich raised in January, which was its best fundraising month of the entire campaign. And I was there.

I saw it happen — an eyewitness to history in the making — without even realizing it at the time. The column I filed for The American Spectator that night at the McDonald’s half a mile from the Fort Myers airport was called “Fear and Loathing in the Sunshine State.” And so yesterday, when I began researching how Gingrich’s campaign spent its way to disaster, it was a kick in the head to realize that the pivotal moment had happened right there in front of my eyes:

Palm trees swayed in a warm Florida breeze one afternoon in late January while we awaited the candidate’s arrival. Four TV satellite trucks were parked outside the terminal at Page Field in Fort Myers, and I was among two-dozen or so journalists waiting in the airport parking lot where about 300 supporters of Newt Gingrich were gathered to greet the man who, just nine days earlier, had defeated Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary.
On Monday, Jan. 30, the day before the Florida primary, the omens were clear enough that Gingrich was about to be defeated in the Sunshine State, but none of Newt’s supporters that afternoon in Fort Myers seemed to suspect that the former House Speaker’s campaign was on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. Nothing reported by the news media prepared them for the disasters that swiftly followed Gingrich’s Florida defeat — his Nevada meltdown and his fourth-place February finishes in Minnesota, Maine, and Michigan — leading up to his March 6 wipeout, when Newt won only his home state of Georgia out of 10 contests on “Super Tuesday.” . . .

Read the rest at The American Spectator, and thanks to everybody who hit the tip jar and gave me a chance to tell that story.

UPDATE: Looking for the appropriate link for the “posh condo in Naples” — thanks, Dan Collins! — this is what I found:

This morning I drove to Waffle House for breakfast — 5-ounce New York strip steak, two eggs over medium, hashbrowns, wheat toast, large orange juice and coffee, $11.71 — and the waitress had a tattoo on her neck.

Heh. It’s weird how the little details make the difference. The tattoo!

You can read the rest of that and see if you spot the annoying little typo that jumped out at me. Damn, I hate typos.

 

 

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Comments

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

    Newt had to have realized what he was spending as he looked out at those scanty crowds.

    And he HAD to have known at that point his “health foundation” was heading for bankruptcy; these things don’t happen overnight.

    So what, Newt supporters, could he possibly have been thinking with everything in sight collapsing around him, to convince him he had a shot at the White House?  What was Newt’s conceivable goal in all this?

  • robertstacymccain

    You know what’s frustrating in retrospect, Rich? Go back to June, when Newt’s original campaign staff threw him under the wheels of his own bus. What was the problem? He was spending too much money, and cruising around the Aegean with Calista instead of working on his campaign.

    Meanwhile, out in Iowa that summer, Rick Santorum was riding around in Chuck Laudner’s Dodge pickup truck, shaking hands with Republican voters one at a time.

    Everything that was wrong with Gingrich’s campaign — and everything that was right about Santorum’s campaign — should have been apparent from the outset.

    Yet there I was on the day before the Florida primary — winner take all, 50 delegates on the line — watching Newt Gingrich on a day when he was still the national front-runner in the Real Clear Politics average, while Rick Santorum had pulled out of Florida to go home and visit his sick child. And on that day, the public perception — the media-generated Conventional Wisdom — was the exact opposite of the fundamental underlying reality.

    I knew that in my gut. I did everything in my power to make other people see what I saw, that Gingrich was doomed and that, despite all appearances, Santorum was the only candidate with a chance to stop Romney. And yet Newt with the help of his media enablers was able to maintain this inverted perception for another six or seven weeks, so that some people were still envisioning a comeback scenario for Gingrich until the votes were counted March 13 in Mississippi and Louisiana.

    My inability to dispel the illusion feels like a profound personal failure. I blame myself for this.

  • http://iSnark.ak4mc.us/ McGehee

    Newt had to have realized what he was spending as he looked out at those scanty crowds.

    And he HAD to have known at that point his “health foundation” was heading for bankruptcy; these things don’t happen overnight.

    Just the guy to reverse the fiscal direction of the United States of Obama. Yeesh.

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  • Adobe_Walls

    Newt’s appeal is that he would have pissed on the left often enough to “clarify” the devide in this country which is an absolute requisit to saving this Republic.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EU5DQWQTTHTPO4A4ZYSL3AAV2U Adjoran

    Even when they had little money, Newt and Callista stayed in the best hotels and dined at the exclusive and expensive restaurants, and traveled first class all the way.  When the rest were beating the bushes in diners, drive-ins, dives, and barns in Iowa, Newt spent a good bit of time in Vegas and California – not campaigning with the hoi polloi, but meeting party donors and leaders, and livin’ Il Dolce Vita as if he were on an extended vacation.

    One report – anonymous sourcing, so it may be total BS – said his campaign debt is up to over $4 million, and the campaign spent over $1 million on Callista alone – her personal services, expenses, and security.

    It was if Bernanke had died and left Newt his printing press.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

     Well, you know the old saying, “You can’t stiffen a bucket of piss with a handful of birdshot.”

    Newt can talk tough and he can talk big.  The excites some folks.  You can see them at any party meeting, the shouters, the angry ones, the ones who spoil for a fight.

    But they don’t show up for the fight they spoiled for.

  • http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com/ Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Newt should shut and go to wherever he and Calista are from. (maybe an alimentary orefice of Dede Scozzafava).    

    And Arlen Specter should STFU too.  

  • K-Bob

    Anyone wanting to turn their brain to mush should flip back and forth between FR (Gingrich central) and here.  Evidently both of these fine conservatives are worse than Keith Olbermann and Barbara Boxer combined.

    Welcome to Romneyville.  I’d like to thank all the grudge holders, the misogynists, the anti-religious, the demanders of perfection, and those who showed such cowardice in the face of Obama that we must cling to the mushy middle.

    I’m blessed to live in flyover country.  I can focus on my family and self reliance.  I don’t really know what the rest of you are gonna do.  Just stay off my lawn.

  • http://www.leftbankofthecharles.com/ Charles

    Rule #1 in hack political campaigning: spend all the money you have and all the money people are willing to lend you. Those who succeed best at that then get to run the government. Should it be any wonder the hacks run the government on the same principles as they run their campaigns?

    We need to go back to the 1990s and reassess how much of that budget balancing was done by Gingrich, how much by Dole, and how much by Panetta.

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  • robertstacymccain

    More than one commenter has recently mentioned that Free Republic has become pro-Gingrich to a fault, with occasional hints of LGF-style purges. It is unfortunate that some people don’t have enough experience dealing with contested primaries to keep this stuff in perspective. Nearly every contested primary eventually becomes a hate-fest at some level, and people start believing the worst kind of negative hype – “So-and-so is a dishonest sellout!” — and the next thing you know, people who used to be friends are trying to strangle each other.

    THIS IS NOTHING NEW.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

     About the self-reliance, K-Bob: the blue states are coming for it.  Just like the chunk of the $4 billion OCare has for Romney care hospitals that’s coming out of your state’s Medicare money.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

     The Freepers are a wonderful example of what I mean.  The DC Freeps did a wonderful job of keeping Code Pink off the wounded troops  at Walter Reed, winter and summer, rain or shine.

    The ones in CA ain’t worth a delta smelt’s fart.  They  wouldn’t get off their asses for free beer and poontang.

  • Adobe_Walls

    I don’t know that they won’t show up for the fight, perhaps some are waiting for the fight to start.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

     It’s been my experience the loud angry ones don’t show up to work the phones or the precincts.  Socons do; the quiet, committed ones do.  The blowhards just blow.

  • K-Bob

    They can have my self-reliance when they pry it from my cold, electro-chemically subdued neurons.

    I’m sure there’s a grant somewhere that’s paying for that.

  • K-Bob

    I think Disqus et my reply.

    I have to agree with that. One of the first political phrases I can ever remember hearing was “We need to stop providing ammunition for the Democrat candidate!”

    It was in the 1960′s. Probably when LBJ was running for his first complete term.

    But I’m just nurturing anger over the whole Palin business. I’m remembering who jumped hard on her potential candidacy, and I’m not going to forget about what happened with Perry, Cain, and Bachmann as well.

    Sure they needed to do better. But Romney was given a pass during that entire time. His stupid comments on the campaign trail raised no eyebrows. But Bachmann’s migraines and Perry’s tardasil were on everyone’s minds to a ridiculous degree.

    I have been caucusing with conservatives because I want a chance to restore the Republic. They let me down. After this election, the word “conservative” means about as much to me as the word “continental.”

    Constitution party, independent, or non-mutant Libertarian. Those are who I’ll support in November, and also next time around.

  • K-Bob

     What kind of beer?

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