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Politics, for all of the focus on issues, symbols and ideology, is a deeply personal business.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) doesn’t feel deep affection for fellow Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.). Mississippi Republican Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran had no love lost when they served together. And the rivalry and animosity between New Jersey Democratic Sens. Bob Torricelli and Frank Lautenberg was legendary.
So the obvious distaste that former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) feels for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney isn’t unusual in politics, possibly except for its ferociousness.
Gingrich apparently believes that Romney’s attacks (and the attacks from the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC) were unfair, and the anger that the former Speaker feels appears to be a part of the reason he is promising to stay in the GOP race all the way to Tampa.
I don’t doubt that Gingrich still thinks he can win the GOP presidential nomination. But his utter contempt for Romney certainly colors his assessment of his own prospects and, at least in part, explains his commitment to the campaign.
Which brings us back to the original question: Exactly how much does Gingrich hate the former Massachusetts governor? How much does he want to destroy, humiliate and defeat Romney?
The answer is important because it is becoming clear that if retribution is a high priority for Gingrich, then his obvious next step is to drop his presidential bid and endorse former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Santorum’s victories in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and in the Missouri beauty-contest primary didn’t fundamentally change the Republican race. Romney largely bypassed a couple of those contests, and low-turnout events benefited Santorum, whose appeal remains to the most conservative elements of the GOP.
Still, the fracture in the Republican race remains unchanged from early January — indeed from last autumn.
Romney has appeal among the party’s establishment, more moderate and “somewhat conservative” voters, older voters, urban and suburban voters, Mormons and less religious voters.
Other GOP constituencies — evangelicals, very conservative voters and rural voters — still haven’t embraced him, and I’m not sure that they will unless and until he locks up the nomination and carries the party’s banner into combat against President Barack Obama.
The problem for Romney continues to be that the anti-Romney — or at least the non-Romney — part of the party is larger than the pro-Romney part of the GOP.