Less than a month after one of the most calamitous political launches in recent memory, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination imploded on Thursday, when its top officials quit en masse.
At least 16 of the former lawmaker's advisers, including all of his senior campaign aides, departed the fledgling operation in a major and potentially devastating shake-up. Those who left included Gingrich's campaign manager, his spokesman, top political strategists and key operatives from crucial GOP primary states. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who was Gingrich's national campaign co-chairman, also defected, to the presidential campaign of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, where a close political aide to the ex-governor is the campaign manager.
"When the campaign and the candidate disagree on the path, they've got to part ways," said Gingrich's longtime spokesman Rick Tyler, who submitted his resignation on Thursday.
In the immediate aftermath of the exodus, the former speaker pledged via a statement on Facebook to forge ahead with his candidacy.
"I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring," Gingrich wrote. "The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles," where he is scheduled to give a foreign policy speech.
But it is not at all clear how the former Georgia lawmaker will be able to resurrect an already floundering campaign without a campaign organization. Among those who departed on Thursday were campaign manager Rob Johnson, strategists Sam Dawson and Dave Carney and South Carolina consultant Katon Dawson.
Recent political history does provide some rays of optimism for a Gingrich campaign recovery. In the 2008 presidential race, Arizona Sen. John McCain suffered a similar staff exodus in the summer of 2007. He slowly rebuilt his campaign, won the New Hampshire primary and went on to be his party's nominee. But it's not clear whether Gingrich has the organization or GOP establishment support to pull off a similar feat. Throughout his career, Gingrich has been known as a prolific idea man who has lacked in management skills.
The shake-up appears to have been prompted, at least in part, by the decision by Gingrich and his wife, Callista, to take a two-week vacation, including a Greek cruise, at a time when the presidential candidate was stumbling. The campaign claimed publicly that the trip was long-planned, but, in fact, the Gingriches' decision to vanish at a critical moment was fiercely opposed by some of his top advisers.
The abrupt getaway also fueled doubts that Gingrich would be willing to invest in the kind of grass-roots effort — including stumping in the early primary states, where he continued to get a warm reception — that has kept his candidacy alive so far.