How to Tell It's Time to Quit the Presidential Race

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Is the time right for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum to get out of the Republican primary? Mitt Romney says yes, that only God is powerful enough to change the tide of math that makes his delegate count nearly insurmountable. But it seems like a bad idea to take the word of the candidates' competition. Instead, maybe it's better to see whether recent media coverage indicates the end is nigh. Just like in Revelations, there are telltale signs the jig is up just before your political world ends. We looked back at the media coverage of the last three weeks of several doomed campaigns and found Three Signs of Campaign End Times.

Scouring Lexis Nexis archives for The New York Times and The Washington Post for the last three weeks of seven candidates' campaigns -- Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, and Jon Huntsman in 2012, and John Edwards and Mitt Romney in 2008 -- we uncovered a pattern emerging in the final days of their campaigns:

Narrowing focus to one make-or-break vote.

  • "Pawlenty Courts Evangelicals in Make-or-Break Moment" -- The New York Times, August 9, 2011
  • "Pawlenty recognizes this week's tests in Iowa are critical - unless, of course, they're not" -- The Washington Post, August 9, 2011
  • "In N.H., it's now or never for Huntsman" -- The Washington Post, January 9, 2012
  • "Bachmann Looks to an Election Night 'Miracle'" -- The New York Times, January 3, 2012
  • "Edwards Will Face a Moment of Truth After South Carolina Primary" -- The Washington Post, January 12, 2008
  • "McCain's Victory in a Party-Only Primary Raises the Hurdles for Romney" -- The New York Times, January 30, 2008

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Acknowledging problems but calming nervous supporters.

  • "Pawlenty Says He's Not Out to 'Get a Cable TV Show'" -- The New York Times, August 8, 2011
  • "As Iowa poll nears, doubts about Pawlenty grow" -- The Washington Post, August 9, 2011
  • "Amid Questions, Cain Stays Defiant" -- The New York Times, December 1, 2011
  • "Cain Acknowledges Shift in His Fortunes" -- The New York Times, November 27, 2011
  • "Cain has simple strategy for handling criticism: Blanket denial" -- The Washington Post, December 1, 2011
  • "Struggling, Perry Finds Place Where His Message Sticks" -- The New York Times, January 12, 2012
  • "Perry hoping for a campaign revival" -- The Washington Post, January 15, 2012
  • "Bachmann's once-promising bid now victim of larger forces" -- The Washington Post, December 30, 2011
  • "Romney Mapping a Strategy to Carry Him Into the Convention" -- The New York Times, February 2, 2008

Declaring you're not quitting.

  • "Cain Pledges to Stay in Race" -- The New York Times, November 30, 2011
  • "Facing an uncertain path, Huntsman vows to go forward" -- The Washington Post, January 11, 2012 
  • "He's Staying in Campaign, Edwards Tells Supporters" -- The New York Times, January 9, 2008
  • "Losses Aside, Romney Puts Convention On Calendar" -- The New York Times, February 7, 2008

The final stage, Defiance, is the worst one of all. Nothing assures you'll quit the race like saying you're not quitting the race. It usually means you're stinking so much of loseriness that it's actually a newsworthy headline that you don't want to quit. Edwards quit 11 days after he said he wasn't quitting. Huntsman quit five days after he said he wouldn't. Cain quit four days after he said he was in it to win it. In 2008, Romney quit the very same day the Times reported he'd take it all the way to the convention.

So, how are Santorum and Gingrich faring? Poor Newt, he's going through all the stages of I'm-losing-the-election grief. 

  • Narrowing focus: "Gingrich Lowers Expectations for Super Tuesday, Concentrating on Georgia" -- The New York Times, March 2, 2012
  • Acknowledging problems...: "Evangelicals hold key to Gingrich's hopes in South" -- The Washington Post, March 8, 2012
  • ...while calming supporters: "'My job . . . is to save Western civilization'" -- The Washington Post, February 20, 2012
  • Defiance: "Newt Gingrich not dropping out even if he loses Alabama, Mississippi" -- The Washington Post, March 9

Santorum's doing a little better. There are still warning signs.

  • Narrowing focus: "Santorum and Romney Court Blue-Collar Voters in Ohio" -- The New York Times, March 7, 2012; "Santorum, Gingrich seek breakthrough in the South" -- The Washington Post, March 9, 2012
  • Acknowledging problems...: "Missteps are costing Santorum delegates" -- The Washington Post, March 9, 2012

So far Santorum hasn't crossed the last critical line into Campaign End Times. Just in case, he should be careful not to say anything too defiant.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.