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For weeks now, Mitt Romney and his aides have been struggling to improve the GOP's math IQ, pulling out charts and claiming only an "act of God" can prevent him from winning.
Now it's Rick Santorum’s turn to do math, arguing that with Newt Gingrich out, he would get a clear shot at Romney and pull together the conservative base. But Gingrich is doing his own numbers, arguing that together he and Santorum can deny Romney the nomination — where Santorum alone could not.
Romney's math arguments have met mixed reviews. “It's a hell of a way to build up enthusiasm, to argue, I've got the math, elect me. It doesn't exactly stir the soul," an exasperated Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News.
Romney’s aides have been pointing to President Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton, which also took time and drained cash and energy. But as Zeke Miller at Buzz Feed notes, “Romney is also no Obama, capable of firing up grassroots activists with an inspirational speech — Romney doesn't give inspirational speeches. It will take Romney time to rally supporters for November, and every day arguing delegate math is a day not spent making the case for why he would be a better president than Obama.”
Santorum’s math is simple: with Gingrich out he wins all the conservatives. But like many simple formulas, it has problems.
Gingrich’s math may actually be more sophisticated. It has him tag teaming with Santorum to deny Romney a majority and throw open the convention to another alternative, possibly Gingrich himself. He noted Wednesday that he and Santorum together drained more votes from Romney than Santorum would alone.
There is a strong basis for Gingrich’s calculations. Santorum’s side has been clinging to the myth that he and Gingrich are splitting the same vote. But as Gary Langer notes at ABC News noted of Alabama and Mississippi, “Gingrich, in turn, won voters in both states focused on the candidate with the best experience to serve as president; experience, as in previous states, was weak for Santorum. Gingrich also ran well among voters who selected the federal budget deficit as the top issue in their vote.”
In other words, “Gingorum” together is greater than the sum of Santorum and Gingrich in parts. Public Policy Polling has been of late been asking voters how they would vote if Gingrich were not in the race, and did so in the run up to Alabama and Mississippi last week.
And Gingrich is right. A combined Gingorum advantage in the PPP Mississippi poll was 60 percent to 31. With Gingrich out, the Santorum advantage fell to 41-38 percent. Ron Paul actually took four points from Gingrich. In Alabama, a 59-31 Gingorum advantage becomes a 43-40 Santorum advantage. This means that while Santorum continues to win in his base demographics, Romney actually picks up significant pieces of what Gingrich leaves behind, furthering his mathematical inevitability.
Still, the pressure for Gingrich to step aside is growing. “One prominent conservative who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly said an effort is underway to ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry to urge Gingrich to step aside,” wrote Amy Gardner and Karen Tumulty at the Washington Post. “But Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said Wednesday that the governor is grateful to two of his top supporters — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback — for sticking with him during his waning days in the race and for letting Perry decide when to withdraw.”
When Perry’s spokesman openly discusses the proper way to allow Gingrich to save face, it seems clear that Perry is, in fact, already pressuring him to get out. In the end, while Gingrich may be right that stopping Romney is more likely with two non-Romneys in the race, it seems unlikely he will get the chance. Santorum may regret having pushed.
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. Email him at email@example.com. Twitter: @eschulzke