The official time of death for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign was 4:02 p.m. ET, March 27, 2012. That was when Politico’s Dylan Byers reported that the “last embedded print reporters” had disembarked the Gingrich bus, “$2.50 Gas” signs fading in the distance as they lugged away their laptops. They would not be in Hudson, Wis. to see Callista reading her history book to tykes. They would be elsewhere when Newt brought the gospel of hydraulic fracturing to Green Bay.
How was the Gingrich campaign holding up? This had to be having an impact on them, right?
“Absolutely zero impact,” said Gingrich’s spokesman R.C. Hammond. He ticked off, one by one, the ways that the fourth estate will get to interact with the former speaker. “Print correspondents cover the campaign—they might hit our event in the morning then Santorum in the afternoon. If a network correspondent wants us, they come meet us on the trail, just as they did when the embeds were around.” Gingrich was still available for “the most important media: local media.” He was still mic’ing up for Fox News, and by appearing on the “talking head shows so much there is always a fresh quote on his take of current events.”
Hammond was describing a return to normalcy. On June 9, 2011, Gingrich’s campaign staff up and quit on him, and he became a curio candidate that networks didn’t devote many resources to following. In early November 2011, Herman Cain’s campaign collapsed because of “false and unproved accusations” that were actually, mostly, proved. The networks and newspapers spent money on him again—up to $2000 a day on planes—for full-spectrum coverage. Now that he’s losing to Ron Paul, Gingrich’s trackers are leaving him. And the Gingrich campaign swears this will be good for him.
This is almost true. Let’s start by admitting that Gingrich will not win the nomination, and that the former speaker of the House who resigned under pressure and then married his mistress was probably not going to run away with this thing. The campaign question is no longer “Can Gingrich win?” It’s “When does Gingrich have to drop out?” He says he doesn’t, because he can still get the sort of attention he needs. And if we define “need” narrowly enough, he isn’t wrong.
For now, at least, he still has the attention of embedded TV reporters, though not “because there’s a high likelihood he’ll be president,” said Ron Fournier, the editor-in-chief of National Journal. (The magazine has a partnership with CBS News.) “There is a high likelihood he can do and say things that affect the race. Both he and Santorum are capable of making news.”
Though the heavy-embed stage of the primary is ending, coverage of the primary might not change. Most Americans, consuming their usual news, saw the campaign as a slog with occasional breakout stories—gaffes, missteps, glitter-bombings. They still get it whether a candidate has 25 cameras on him or whether a ThinkProgress blogger is watching the sole C-Span feed.
Look back at the twin March 13 primaries in Mississippi and Alabama. They were the last contests where all four candidates—Ron Paul included—had some embedded reporters following them. The result was beaucoup coverage of a 10-second moment when a goofily sincere Mitt Romney announced that he liked “cheesy grits.”