Updated, 8:45 PM
Newt Gingrich vowed to continue his presidential bid on Thursday afternoon after a slew of campaign staffers staged a mass exodus that raised questions about the future of the campaign.
“I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring,” Gingrich wrote in a statement e-mailed to supporters and posted on his Facebook page. “The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles.”
But it’s not clear who, apart from the former House Speaker himself, will be there to steer the sputtering campaign through its latest crisis. At least six top staffers quit Thursday, including his campaign manager and his spokesman according to multiple news reports, and his entire paid team in Iowa reportedly jumped ship.
Craig Schoenfeld, the executive director of Gingrich’s Iowa team, suggested the decision was spurred by the candidate’s unwillingness to commit to the extensive campaign schedule required to compete in the crucial caucus state. “You have to be able to raise money to run a campaign and you have to invest time in fundraising and to campaign here in the state and I did not have the confidence that was going to be happening,” Schoenfeld told the Des Moines Register. “I’ve seen the schedule for June and July going into the straw poll. It’s clear there wasn’t a path to success.” Gingrich was slated to join a June bus tour arranged by the Iowa Tea Party, but other candidates have done far more to shore up their support among caucus-goers, many of whom were already leery of Gingrich’s checkered personal history and combative style. “You need to invest more time than a parade appearance,” Schoenfeld said.
Two of the aides leaving the Gingrich campaign — campaign manager Rob Johnson and strategist Dave Carney– have deep ties to Texas Governor Rick Perry, a connection that will stoke speculation that Perry intends to jump into the race. Johnson ran Perry’s re-election campaign last year, and Carney is one of the Texan’s top advisers. But Carney warned not to interpret the staff shakeup as a harbinger of Perry’s intentions. “This is totally unrelated to Rick Perry,” he wrote in an email to Politico.
Instead, staffers painted a picture of a campaign held captive by the whims of the candidate. Gingrich’s campaign launch was among the stormiest in recent memory, rocked by reports of his lavish expense at Tiffany’s, withering barbs from the conservative base over his criticism the Republican budget and a peripatetic campaign schedule. After Gingrich called Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan “radical right-wing social engineering,” conservative commentators spent days taking potshots at the former House Speaker, severely inhibiting the campaign’s early fundraising efforts.
Then, just weeks into his campaign, Gingrich put his bid on hold to take a two-week Mediterranean getaway with wife Callista as competitors criss-crossed key primary states. The decision incensed Gingrich’s aides, who questioned his ability to weather a grueling, 18-month fight. “Without the candidate’s full commitment to the process, there wasn’t going to be a path to victory,” says Will Rogers, who has worked for Gingrich in Iowa on and off for six years but quit at the end of May.
Dismayed at their prospects going forward, other loyal Gingrich aides began mulling whether to jump ship. More dominoes may fall; later Thursday, Gingrich’s national campaign co-chair, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, signed on with Tim Pawlenty. “When the campaign and the candidate disagree on the path, they’ve got to part ways,” Rick Tyler, Gingrich’s beleaguered spokesman, told the Washington Post Thursday.
Gingrich is expected at the first Republican presidential primary debate Monday in New Hampshire. The question now is where he goes from there — and whether anyone else is willing to go along for the ride.