How Gingrich’s Vision for Becoming the Nominee Has Gone From Absurd to Downright Crazy

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
March 21 2012 6:27 PM

Above the Rules

There is talk that a little-known GOP rule could block Gingrich’s path to the nomination. Clearly, these people don’t recognize a man of destiny when they see one.

Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
The Gingrich camp is adressing concerns that Rule 40(b) could keep Newt from gaining the nomination

Sean Gardner/Getty Images.

Now let us talk of Republican National Committee rule No. 40(b). Must we? I'm afraid we must, my friend, they’re printing stories in the press. Some believe it to be a hurdle to Newt Gingrich's march to the nomination. You mean the one where he keeps losing but at the Republican Convention is held aloft by 1,144 delegates as the one true nominee? The very same, my friend. Oh no! His plans may be undone. Fear not, this minuscule rule tucked away in Republican Party handbook does nothing to alter the Gingrich plan at all. Hurray! That's because the Gingrich plan has always been so fantastical, rules don't really apply, whether they be party rules or the rules of time and space. Huh? Let me explain:

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

RNC rule No. 40(b) states:

Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a plurality of the delegates from each of five (5) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination. 

On its face, this looks bad for Gingrich. The former speaker has won primaries only in South Carolina and Georgia, and it doesn’t look like he will win a plurality of delegates in any future state. If he can’t meet the five-state threshold, he can’t get on the ballot. If he can't get on the ballot, he can't get nominated. True enough, you earthbound simpleton, but you are refusing to embrace Gingrich's bold vision for winning as he and his aides have articulated it for the last several weeks. Here's how it works and why 40(b) is meaningless: 

According to the Gingrich plan, come the August convention, he'll have well more than the necessary number of delegates in a good deal more states than five. That's because the Gingrich plan ignores the primary process where his fortunes are concerned. As he tells it, all these caucuses and primaries are simply exposing Mitt Romney's deficiencies. Sure, Romney keeps winning and amassing delegates, but in a few Southern states he has not won. That regional blemish is evidence of a irreparable flaw that will deprive him of the 1,144 delegates he needs to win the nomination, so the Gingrich story goes. By the end of primary season in late June, the Republican Party will have "a real conversation," as Gingrich calls it, about who can defeat Barack Obama. In that chat, Gingrich, who will likely be more than 800 delegates behind Mitt Romney, will convince hundreds of delegates that he is the best person to beat Obama. They will suddenly drop their allegiance to other candidates and at the Tampa convention  1,144 of them will vote for Gingrich. Since rule 40(b) applies to your delegate count at the convention—and not at the time the states vote—Gingrich will rise on the shoulders of these newly converted delegates and easily smash the five-state threshold to get on the ballot. Did you think something like Rule 40(b) could stop a man of destiny?

Rather than a new hurdle to Gingrich's plans, RNC rule 40(b) simply brings into higher relief the extraordinary unlikelihood of Gingrich's plan to win the nomination. He has already staked his victory on 18 home runs in the ninth inning with two outs. Rule 40(b) simply says he must hit each home run 400 feet, the distance of the plate to centerfield.*

A fact to bore them with at dinner: If Gingrich were somehow to pull off his plan, it might require that his name be put into nomination after Romney loses the first ballot vote at the convention. That would turn a contested convention (where several candidates on the ballot fight it out) into a brokered convention (where a new candidate is added to the ballot after the first vote). 

Correction, March 28, 2012: This article originally stated that the distance between home plate and the centerfield wall is 400 yards. It is more often 400 feet.

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