Given the way Gingrich wore out his welcome, Romney could easily leave him out in the cold. But he owes his rival for one big favor.
Newt Gingrich is preparing to drop out of the presidential race, and not a moment too soon. Barring some change in the rules of physics and the Republican National Committee, it has long been and continues to be impossible for him to gather enough delegates to oust Mitt Romney as the party's nominee -- something he has periodically acknowledged, even as he continues to amble from state to state, zombielike, visiting zoos and declaring himself the "last conservative standing."
Gingrich plans to endorse Romney when he exits the race next week -- something Rick Santorum, who dropped out April 10, still hasn't done -- and Romney appears eager to accept the endorsement. He called Gingrich Wednesday morning, according to ABC News, to say "that if [Gingrich] was going to end his campaign, he would want Newt to be part of his team," in the words of a Gingrich adviser. Gingrich, for his part, assured Romney his endorsement would be "full-throated and without reservation."
It will be interesting to see what sort of accommodation gets made between the two men, and between Romney and Santorum when they finally have their rapprochement. (The two have a meeting planned for May 4.) Both Gingrich and Santorum have made noises about wanting to be a voice for conservatives in the GOP and to see that Romney doesn't stray too far to the center as he campaigns toward November. Both arguably overstayed their welcome in the primary, continuing to campaign -- and to damage Romney and the party -- past the point where there was any constructive rationale for their candidacy. In contrast to the generally positive vibes between Romney's camp and that of still-campaigning Rep. Ron Paul, there's little love between Team Romney and the Santorum and Gingrich camps -- understandably so.
With few delegates at their disposal and even fewer brownie points on the board, Gingrich and Santorum would seem to be in poor position to demand any consideration from Romney. This is especially true for Gingrich. Santorum has a national following and constituency among social conservatives, and won 11 state contests in the primary. Gingrich, whose constituency has now dwindled to the 27 percent of Delaware Republicans who believe Romney should have more aggressively sought their votes, and who won just two states, has no such leverage. If Romney wanted to get back at him -- for criticizing his work in the private sector, accusing him of "pious baloney," and describing him time and again as an unelectable "Massachusetts moderate" -- he could probably leave the former House Speaker out in the cold with minimal consequences.
But Romney does owe Gingrich, and Santorum, for one major favor they did for him. By behaving childishly and running totally amateurish campaigns, they made Romney look good. Next to Santorum's inability to stay on message, Romney's gaffes looked minor. Next to Gingrich's petulant posturing, Romney looked like a grown-up. Next to both men's improvised, bare-bones efforts, Romney's flawed operation looked like the Cadillac of political campaigns.
In losing in the most undignified manner possible, Gingrich made Romney shine. And for that, Romney owes Gingrich his gratitude.