The Gingrich & Santorum "Unity Ticket" That Didn't Quite Happen

by
Owen Poindexter
After the Florida primary in 2012, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum realized that neither one of them was likely to beat Mitt Romney...unless they teamed up.


Rick Santorum, left, and Newt Gingrich, center, almost formed a team to take down Mitt Romney, right.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich attempted to negotiate a "Unity Ticket" to take down Mitt Romney. The problem was that neither one of them wanted to drop out and run as the other's running mate.

The Anti-Romney Phenomenon

Pop quiz: What is this a list of?

Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum.

Partial credit if you said Republican nominees in the 2012 contest, but notice I omitted Romney, John Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty (and the tragically unknown Buddy Roemer). The above list is of Republican candidates who had a five week surge in the polls as the anti-Romney leading up to the Iowa caucus. Bachmann made the first big splash, which is the main thing she's good at, but then dropped precipitously after winning the Iowa Straw Poll. Perry charged in as the anti-Romney savior, but was weak in debates before officially killing his campaign by forgetting the third federal agency he would cut. Cain rose up as a beloved true outsider, but was eventually felled, not by an easy to remember but nonsensical economic plan, not by repeating that the economy is a train and that President Obama has put all the resources in the caboose, but by a Tiger Woodsian string of alleged ex-lovers and harassment victims with whom Cain had been unfaithful to his wife. The anti-Romney vote then switched their allegiances to Gingrich, who led the polls for a few weeks. Ron Paul took a turn, and then finally Santorum rose up at just the right moment to eke out an Iowa victory over Romney. Romney won New Hampshire, Gingrich surged again and took South Carolina, Romney beat back Gingrich in Florida, and then Rick Santorum's campaign manager John Brabender placed a call to the Gingrich campaign.

From Rivals To Teammates?

Brabender proposed that Gingrich drop out and endorse Santorum in the middle of a nationally televised debate in exchange for the number two spot on Santorum's ticket. Gingrich made the outside-the-box counterproposal that they run as co-candidates, with each campaigning in the regions that they were strongest. Supposedly they would sort out which one of them would be the eventual nominee afterward, which could turn off voters, because it's not like they held identical positions on a number of issues. Gingrich and Santorum met one on one to discuss a deal before the Michigan primary, but in the end, neither of them would agree to playing second fiddle.

“I was disappointed when Speaker Gingrich ultimately decided against this idea, because it could have changed the outcome of the primary,” Santorum told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “And more importantly, it could have changed the outcome of the general election.”

I imagine Obama would have crushed a Santorum-Gingrich ticket in the general election, but as for the Republican nominating contest, Santorum may be right, and I have no idea why Gingrich didn't eventually take Santorum's original offer. By the Michigan primary, Gingrich was floundering, and had no credible path to a revival. Santorum was ascendent, having just notched a trio of victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. Michigan loomed large as a must-win for Romney, who has roots in the state (his dad was governor), and needed a win in the last big state before Super Tuesday.

The results in Michigan, Romney won with 41% of the vote, Santorum was a close second with 38%, Ron Paul earned an impressive 11%, and Newt topped out at 7%. Had Gingrich endorsed Santorum before Michigan, we can't simply add his 7% to Santorum's 38% and declare Santorum the would-be winner, but Santorum only would have needed half of Newt's votes, and they might have peeled off a few Romney votes with the extra burst of energy and news coverage.

We also can't then declare Santorum the hypothetical winner of the nomination, but he would have been in great shape with the anti-Romney vote consolidated and winning.

The Santorum-Gingrich ship sailed after Michigan, but one has to wonder if two candidates could get the same idea in 2016. Rand Paul and Scott Walker to take down Jeb Bush? Conceivable, but unlikely. There has to be a strong anti-frontrunner sentiment for it to make sense. Romney may have been unique in that regard. Still, with the Republican party still fractured between mainstream and tea party, the possibility exists of one side teaming up to take down the other.

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