What hurts Newt Gingrich the most about his second-place finish in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday? That his southern brethren didn't back him? That conservative leaders are now screaming for him to pull out of the Republican presidential race? More likely it's the same fact, reported by the Washington Examiner's Byron York, that both The New York Times and The Washington Post are pulling their reporters from Gingrich's campaign. As much as Gingrich loves to bash the "elite media," his campaign strategy for almost a year has been to go light on the campaigning and get lots of press attention.
How bad was Gingrich's loss? It's not just that his own campaign said Mississippi and Alabama were must-win states. It's not just that he was trying to set himself up as a regional candidate and failed. It's that he failed to capture the support of a culture that's not only conservative, but conservative in the flamboyant ways Gingrich has always tapped into so well. One of the most amazing spectacles Tuesday night was when Alabama proudly showed off some of its criminal justice innovations on CNN. Dana Bash stood in her TV news suit and watched as prisoners wearing actual striped outfits -- cartoonish orange and white instead of cartoonish black and white -- fulfilled their "hard labor" obligations by carrying ballots. Whoever thought that up should have loved Gingrich. He perfectly captured this same southern fetish for punitive public humiliation when he suggested poor children learn a good work ethic by being janitors at their own schools.
Gingrich said on Fox News Tuesday night that his new strategy was to get back to issues of substance, like lowering gas prices (which a president cannot actually do) and, we can only hope, baby janitors. When asked if there ould be pressure to quit the race, Gingrich said, "What pressure is there going to be? That the Romney people want me to get out? That the Washington establishment wants me to get out?" Yes. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol says he should quit. So does Republican consultant Keith Appell. The chair of the Alabama Republican Party is pessimistic. A Wall Street Journal editorial warns that even if Gingrich succeeds in denying Romney a majority of delegates, Gingrich "won't be the man the GOP turns to. His negative ratings are too high, even among Republicans." Establishment and otherwise.