Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Do Gingrich, Santorum know how to lose?

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 9:41 AM EDT, Sun March 25, 2012
Gloria Borger: The use of Etch A Sketch toys as props by GOP candidates like Rick Santorum is a sign the race is getting silly.
Gloria Borger: The use of Etch A Sketch toys as props by GOP candidates like Rick Santorum is a sign the race is getting silly.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Borger: GOP candidates are wandering campaign trail with Etch A Sketch toys
  • She says neither Gingrich nor Santorum can win, so why continue?
  • In 2008, Romney knew to get out after "he saw the handwriting on the wall," she says
  • Borger: Santorum, Gingrich can prolong the race, but would they be blamed for a GOP loss?

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst, appearing regularly on shows such as "AC360˚" "The Situation Room," "John King, USA" and "State of the Union."

(CNN) -- So we're at a point in the campaign where health care reform is about to go on trial at the Supreme Court, unemployment remains high and gas prices are skyrocketing.

As for the GOP presidential wannabes, they're arguing over, um, an Etch A Sketch metaphor bungled by a Mitt Romney staffer. ("You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again," Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN this week.)

Sure, the metaphor has a perfection all its own, given Romney's penchant for redrawing policy lines. It's just low-hanging fruit, hard to pass up. But the picture of two "serious" presidential candidates wandering the trail with an old-school toy as a prop can lead to only one conclusion: This is getting silly.

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

The intellectual arguments have been made. The differences have been debated. And the voters are speaking. Sure, they're conflicted: hard-line conservatives and evangelicals will never love Romney. But Romney has what appears to be an insurmountable delegate lead. He will not sprint across the finish line, to be sure. He will crawl across it. But he will get there nonetheless.

If this were another time, the establishment power brokers would step in with a vision. They would take the candidates aside, give them the big-picture analysis from 30,000 feet and say: "Unite for the sake of the party." Then they would take to the airwaves and offer their full-throated endorsements, turning their attention to seeking the defeat of President Obama.  

Gingrich: I'm staying in the race
Santorum: Stick with Obama over Romney

Not happening. Consider this: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorses Romney, but there's no rally, huge photo op or choreographed endorsement tour. One prominent tea party group says, well, I suppose we can live with Romney if that's what we have to do. And tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, stops short of endorsing Romney but grudgingly allows that "I think we all need to look at this presidential primary and encourage the candidates to do a little self-reflection here -- what's good for our country."

The moves toward Romney have all of the enthusiasm and passion of an arranged marriage.

So what can be done? Answer: Not much. The next moves are up to the candidates.

First of all, the old-time power brokers don't have much to offer anymore. The political power within the GOP has moved away from any organized structure toward two force fields: the populist guy in the street and the rich guys who can write multimillion-dollar checks.

The super PAC sugar daddies -- simply by virtue of their money -- are the reason the campaigns continue. What's the incentive for Newt Gingrich to get out as long as Sheldon Adelson, from his perch in Vegas, is willing to keep paying for his political ads? The same goes for Foster Friess, Santorum's man, who gets to dabble in politics from his mountain views in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I bet these fellows haven't had this much fun in years.

Meantime, the newly populist GOP grass roots won't be told what to do anyway. Party organizations can't deliver them anymore, and Romney isn't exactly the guy they were wishing for when the tea party came on the scene in 2010. The establishment is in disrepute as far as they're concerned; those are the people who bungled the economy. "People feel they can make this decision on their own," Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, who hasn't yet endorsed, tells me. "There's just a lot less party loyalty. ... We are in a period where people are searching."

At some point, though, the search has to end. The money men could get tired of writing checks for fewer and fewer delegates. The math may become overpowering. At some point, the voters will get restless.

Yet the final decisions will have to come from the men running. Granted, Gingrich and Santorum don't like Romney much -- and the longer they run against him, the less they like him. And often with good reason.

But here's the final consideration: "You don't want the blame for losing," Cole says. "It's one thing to fight the good fight. ... But look at Romney in 2008. He knew when to get out."

Yes he did. Romney knew how to end it the right way in 2008. After Super Tuesday, he saw the handwriting on the wall and embraced John McCain. And there's a lesson in that: Parties reward the winners, sure. But voters like good losers, too. Knowing how to lose is the hardest part of running.

Join us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Follow us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT