The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

A Political Math Problem

Posted on | February 6, 2012 | 16 Comments

“The after-battle assessments in the major newspapers and newsweeklies generally agreed on the big picture: the campaign was not prepared for a lengthy fight; it had an insufficient delegate operation; it squandered vast sums of money; and the candidate herself evinced a paralyzing schizophrenia — one day a shots-’n’-beers brawler, the next a Hallmark Channel mom.”
Joshua Green, “The Front-Runner’s Fall,” The Atlantic, September 2008

“In a meeting room at the Palazzo hotel [in Las Vegas] over the past week, Newt Gingrich mapped out a detailed strategy that would keep him in the presidential race all the way to the Republican convention in August.
“The crux of the former House speaker’s new plan is math: a complex analysis of each state’s delegates, how they’re awarded and how many, reasonably, Gingrich can expect to win.”

Amy Gardner, “Newt Gingrich campaign offers detailed plan to carry on,” Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2002

As soon as I read the article about Newt Gingrich’s weeklong Vegas strategy sessions, my mind clicked back to Josh Green’s fascinating article about Hillary Clinton’s doomstruck 2008 campaign. How had such an overwhelming front-runner, with so many built-in advantages over her rivals, managed to fumble away the nomination? Green’s article describes the basic error in about 170 words, summarizing the strategic assumptions contained in a March 2007 campaign memo written by Clinton adviser Harold Ickes:

Ickes believed that Iowa and New Hampshire could determine Clinton’s fate, and that the February 5 Super Tuesday primaries would determine the nominee. No mention was made of the delegates or the later-caucus states that actually figured so decisively.
Ickes seemed attuned to the asymmetric risk that accompanies overwhelming front-runner status: the collapse of momentum that would accompany an unexpected loss. He posited that Edwards and Obama could sustain losing Iowa and New Hampshire but worried that Clinton could not; he urged that she spend “substantial” time in Iowa; and he recommended a contingency plan that would haunt the campaign when his own budget team didn’t fulfill it. Noting the difficulty of raising more than $75 million before Iowa, Ickes stressed the need to maintain a $25 million reserve, presumably as insurance against a setback. The campaign wound up raising more than $100 million—but, according to The New York Times, by the time Iowa was lost, $106 million had been spent. The $25 million reserve had vanished, and the campaign was effectively insolvent.

This was a stunning revelation: The Clinton campaign burned through more than $100 million before it ever got to New Hampshire, didn’t think in terms of delegate counts, and did not bother to plan beyond the Super Tuesday primaries.

There are obvious parallels to the Gingrich campaign, on a smaller scale. Consider the matter of money: Gingrich spent more than $10 million before the end of 2011, entering 2012 with about $2 million cash on hand. By comparison, Mitt Romney spent about $36 million by the end of last year, entering 2012 with about $20 million cash on hand.

Yet the winner of the Iowa caucuses was neither Romney nor Gingrich, but rather Rick Santorum, who spent less than $2 million and had less than $300,000 cash on hand to begin 2012.

And it was not until last week — after the Florida primary — that Gingrich’s campaign staff sat down and calculated the remaining campaign schedule in terms of delegate counts.

There are obvious differences between the Democratic race in 2008 and the Republican campaign in 2012, of course: Going into 2008, the Democrats were fired up, having taken back Congress in 2006, and eager to recapture the White House they’d narrowly lost in 2000. John Edwards, John Kerry’s 2004 running mate, was a contender who’d spent four years building his campaign, especially in Iowa. And none of the GOP 2012 candidates, not even Romney, have the kind of fund-raising resources that enabled Hillary to raise $100 million in 2007.

Another glaring difference: The three-candidate race between Clinton, Edwards and Barack Obama that defined the early campaign for Democrats in 2007-08 was fairly stable. In 2011-2012, the “flavor of the month” cycles in the GOP campaign saw five major candidates flame out before the third contest of the race, the Jan. 21 primary in South Carolina. Here is a helpful chart:

Candidate ……. Money Raised (12/31/11) … Quit
Tim Pawlenty ………….. $5.1 million …………….. Aug. 14
Herman Cain ………… $16.8 million ……………… Dec. 3
Michelle Bachmann … $9.2 million ……………… Jan. 4
Jon Huntsman ……….. $5.9 million …………….. Jan. 16
Rick Perry ……………… $19.8 million ……………. Jan. 19

(Source: Center for Responsive Politics)

Between them, these five candidates raised a total of $56.8 million, a sum greater than Romney’s $56.4 million, yet two — Pawlenty and Cain — quit before any votes were cast, and three more quit in a 15-day span between the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary. Both Cain and Perry have given Gingrich their endorsements, but he would surely rather have the $36.6 million that their campaigns raised (and mostly spent) in 2011.

It is remarkable that Santorum’s low-budget campaign out-performed all five of the candidates who quit before South Carolina, each of whom raised at least twice his 2011 total. It is furthermore remarkable that Gingrich, despite his vast fundraising advantage over Santorum, is trailing Santorum in polls of both Colorado and Minnesota, which hold caucuses Tuesday.

And yet, as Amy Gardner points out in her Washington Post article, the Gingrich campaign’s need for more money is now so desperate that the candidate’s time is being spent on fundraising efforts: “Gingrich . . . barely appeared in public during nearly a full week in Las Vegas to concentrate on raising money.”

More alarming than that, however, is the revelation that after just five contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada — Gingrich is already at such a disadvantage in terms of delegate count that even by his own estimate, he cannot hope to regain the lead before the Texas primary scheduled for April 3: “Our commitment is to find a series of victories which, by the end of the Texas primary, will leave us at parity with Governor Romney. And by that point forward, we’ll see if we can’t actually win the nomination.”

“We’ll see”?

Newt is dialing-for-dollars, trying to raise money to continue his campaign on the basis of “we’ll see”? And in point of fact, a pending lawsuit over re-districting means that the Texas primary is likely to be delayed well past the scheduled April 3 date.

The Gingrich campaign is faced with a math problem involving not merely delegate counts, but also time and money. An apparently high “burn rate” of funds means that Gingrich must raise large sums merely to keep his campaign going, and he must keep going for at least two months if he hopes to catch up with Romney, a hope contingent on his successes in the meantime.

The math problem is even tougher for Santorum — who got the bad news today that he failed to qualify for the ballot in Indiana’s May primary — but Santorum’s low-budget underdog campaign has a far lower “burn rate” compared to Gingrich, and can more plausibly maintain a “we’ll see” approach. Between now and Super Tuesday on March 6, the calendar looks like this:

Feb. 7
Colorado (caucus) ……………………. 36 delegates
Minnesota (caucus) ………………….. 40 delegates
Missouri (non-binding primary) … 0 delegates

Feb. 11
Maine (caucus) …………………………. 24 delegates

Feb. 22 — Arizona Debate (CNN)

Feb. 28
Arizona (primary) ……………………… 29 delegates
Michigan (primary) …………………… 30 delegates

March 1 — Georgia Debate (CNN)

March 3
Washington (caucus) …………………. 43 delegates

So there will be 202 delegates awarded before Super Tuesday, 100 of which will be awarded before the next debate on Feb. 22. It is possible that the debates could dramatically alter the race, shifting the momentum against Romney. But unless that happens, it’s difficult to see Gingrich winning any of those states, so that Romney’s advantage is likely to increase between now and Super Tuesday, when the primaries in Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma represent likely or possibly wins. Yet other states on the Super Tuesday calendar, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia, look to be big wins for Romney, and it’s entirely possible that Romney will win more of the total 437 delegates at stake on March 6, increasing his margin still further.

By the morning of March 7, then, Gingrich could very well be in a worse position than he is now. And while unexpected developments in the next 30 days could shift the momentum against Romney, as of today, Gingrich is facing a very difficult political math problem.


16 Responses to “A Political Math Problem”

  1. richard mcenroe
    February 6th, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

    Hey, at least his Wikipedia presence is tight.

  2. ThePaganTemple
    February 6th, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

    I’ve got a math problem for you all. How do we manage to subtract teacher’s unions from our schools, and tens of thousands of leftist teachers at all grade levels, including also professors at the university level who are entrenched due to a corrupt tenure system which enables Marxist professors to remain teaching Marxist dribble in left-wing political indoctrination classes, in which one can not excel or succeed if one expresses a contradictory, conservative point of view.

    And who’s talking about this problem besides Newt Gingrich? Who’ll come close to doing anything about this problem besides Newt Gingrich? Who will even make the attempt?

    Another math problem for you. How many failing schools do we have to add to the list before it finally dawns on us that this is not a minor problem?

  3. Adjoran
    February 7th, 2012 @ 12:52 am

     My answer is we start by getting the government out of the education business.

    My question is:  Reagan first proposed doing away with the Department of Education, founded to repay the NEA for their help in getting Jimmy Carter elected.  How much time did Gingrich spend on this problem in Congress?  As Speaker?

    In his books since being thrown out by conservatives?  In his consulting work?

    Yeah, I can see how concerned he is – when he thinks it might save his failing campaign, he talks about it.

  4. Adjoran
    February 7th, 2012 @ 12:58 am

    The biggest math problem for Gingrich is money.  You mention his high burn rate.  He took several “campaign trips” to California at the time others were building organizations in the early states.  He and Callista tend to go first class without regard for campaign coffers.

    This is part of the reason he can’t attract any big donor/bundlers besides his old friend Adelson (who incidentally promises a much bigger infusion of cash for the nominee, no matter who it is, because he sees Obama as the real problem).  Nobody wants to donate or convince their friends to donate money so the candidate can have a better hotel suite and charter flights instead of commercial. 

    Of course, the fact that most donors and bundlers have been around long enough to know the truth about Gingrich is a big, perhaps far bigger, factor.  They know fully well he is incapable of controlling himself and that he is no “true conservative” as the self-deluded believe.

  5. Bradley
    February 7th, 2012 @ 1:15 am

    Agreed about Newt’s money problem. 

    A national campaign takes real money, that’s why this thing is over.   Newt has  just been floated by one man, and it’s looking like he’s now sliding his chips on a different bet.

    As someone who’s been around the block as a political consultant, I’ve seen this before.  The loudest members of the GOP are the ones that can even so much as bother to throw $25 to a candidate.

    The kind of money NotRomney Inc. is raising is a joke, for all the talk about the passion a “true conservative” would bring to the election, you’re certainly not seeing it in the form of donations.

  6. richard mcenroe
    February 7th, 2012 @ 2:10 am

    Adelson will get frog marched before the general election.  DOJ will magically decide his Chinese connections rise to the level of indictable.

  7. Quartermaster
    February 7th, 2012 @ 6:33 am

    It’s going to be Romney, like it or not, the Soros approved GOP candidate. It’s where the eastern establishment’s money is going. The rest are having trouble raising enough to keep a good campaign going.

    I doubt Adelson will be indicted for anything, but we’ll see what happens.

  8. ThePaganTemple
    February 7th, 2012 @ 6:58 am

     Actually he talked about it early on, right when he first started rising in the polls, before Iowa. Not at some small campaign event, either. On Meet The Press. He explicitly mentioned Marxist professors and tenure, something you rarely hear mentioned beyond the confines of the conservative blogsophere, or an Ann Coulter speech.

    When has your beloved Romney ever mentioned it, other than maybe the usual bland generic “we need to get government out of education”, a laff riot of a line which is always good for a slight round of applause, but never seems to be translated into action.

    The ED is going nowhere, and neither is the NEA, because politicians like Romney are scared to death to really do anything to them beyond using them as red meat, bait for the rubes.

    Under a President Romney nothing changes. Under a Santorum, maybe it will, but I doubt it. But Newt Gingrich? I think he’d make the effort. That’s one reason among many I’m willing to give honest, thoughtful criticisms of him all due deliberation, but when it comes to hate like from you and a few others, I take it with a grain of salt. The country is too important to me to mess things up because a few people are butt hurt and can’t get over their fucking selves.

  9. Bob Belvedere
    February 7th, 2012 @ 8:22 am

     The thing is though: this is one of those years where anything is possible, where to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow is a fool’s errand.

    I’ve followed campaigns since I was a teenager [politics was my main sport] and I have never seen a campaign as unpredictable as this one.  The conventional wisdom has left the building.

  10. Bob Belvedere
    February 7th, 2012 @ 8:23 am

     The old cliche is true: a DA or US Attorney can get a jury to indict a ham sandwich [something, I think, Mayor Bloomberg would love to see].

  11. Anonymous
    February 7th, 2012 @ 8:44 am

    “The kind of money NotRomney Inc. is raising is a joke, for all the talk about the passion a ‘true conservative’ would bring to the election, you’re certainly not seeing it in the form of donations.”

    And that, I think, is truly disturbing. What I fear is that conservatives are falling back into the kind of “sit on the sofa and yell at the TV” apathy that the Tea Party was supposed to have cured.

    Perhaps it needs to be explained, once more, that political activism is a process, not an event. You cannot run onto the field for one play, then go back to the sidelines, and then congratulate yourself that you have “made a difference.”

    Slow and steady wins the race. The system is prepared to offer numerous obstacles and discouragements to anyone who tries to change the system. The Establishment would not be the Establishment if it did not have means to defend its own authority. Any anti-Establishment activist must therefore be patient and determined, and willing to learn the ways of acquiring and exercising influence, if they really wish to effect a change.

    Too many volunteer-activist types, it seems to me, have a weird mix of cynicism and naive idealism. On the one hand, they cynically believe that the system is infested with corrupt, selfish people — which is true enough — and yet at the same time, they believe that doing the things necessary to get inside the system and make a change would somehow corrupt the purity of their own ideals.

    I wish people would study the example of the Ron Paul movement, how Paul used his 2008 campaign as the vehicle to build a larger activist movement, which has subsequently had an enormous impact on the system.

  12. Anonymous
    February 7th, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    Can you blame the many Republicans who are “sitting on the sidelines” right now?  Look at the conservative (we can argue “how conservative” later) candidates who have flamed out: Cain, Bachmann, Perry.  Did they fail for lack of money?  No.

    But I think a lot of conservatives were waiting for the field to get whittled down before making any campaign donations.  Now, it looks like Santorum is the only “conservative: candidate left.  He couldn’t even get re-eleceted to the Senate last time, and his candidacy is hanging by a thread.  Conservatives are a bang-for-the-buck kind of crowd, and I don’t think they see enough yet to fund Santorum.

    But once the Republican convention is over, I think you will see the donations pour in for the eventual nominee, whichever of the three it is, becuase the one thing conservatives want is our SCOAMF of a POTUS kicked to the curb.

    My 2 cents…

  13. Anonymous
    February 7th, 2012 @ 9:26 am

     (looks like the disqus/yahoo linkup leads to rather amusing user names diplayed??…)

  14. VIDEO: Was Ann Coulter Right? : The Other McCain
    February 7th, 2012 @ 11:49 am

    […] to some measure of respect, even when she is demonstrably wrong?After having examined the enormous odds against stopping Romney from getting the nomination, it occurs to me that Miss Coulter’s early endorsement of Mitt […]

  15. Finrod Felagund
    February 7th, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

    This is why Santorum fans and Gingrich fans need to stop taking potshots at the other’s candidate (especially you, Stacy) and concentrate all their fire on Mitt Romney.  Because otherwise Romney wins the nomination.

  16. Finrod Felagund
    February 7th, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

    I have a feeling donations are going to be way down if Romney wins the nomination.  Who wants to give money to a guy that has tons of it already, and who spent tons of it trashing every other Republican running?