His campaign already reeling from self-inflicted blows, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich found his 2012 White House hopes hit by yet another devastating setback Thursday when several senior campaign staffers abruptly quit following a long-brewing dispute over scheduling and fundraising.
The Georgia Republican immediately vowed to stay in the race, but he will now have to do so without his campaign manager, his chief campaign strategist, his top spokesman and top aides overseeing operations in such critical early-primary states as New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“The scheduling I saw did not look like the path to victory,” former Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler told The Washington Times. “I’ve left because Newt has a different idea about how to go forward.
“When campaigns and candidates have different ideas on that, people on the campaign have to leave,” said Mr. Tyler, who has worked for Mr. Gingrich for 10 years.
Bob Heckman, a longtime presidential campaign operative, said he had “never seen a mass exodus anywhere near this big or comprehensive.”
Despite strenuous objections from senior campaign staffers, Mr. Gingrich vacationed with wife Callista instead of participating in Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference last weekend in Washington, at which virtually all the other serious 2012 nomination contenders spoke.
Senior aides said it was Mr. Gingrich’s reluctance to devote enough time to raising money on the phone and at fundraising events around the country that sealed their decisions to quit.
Gingrich campaign manager Rob Johnson, who managed Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election campaign last year, was another senior official who quit on Thursday.
A third resignation came from Sam Dawson, who served as chief strategist and senior adviser.
A critical fourth resignation came from senior adviser David Carney, also a Perry adviser.
“The professional team came to the realization that the direction of the campaign they sought and Newt’s vision for the campaign were incompatible,” Mr. Carney told The Times.
The mass resignation fueled speculation about the presidential ambitions of Mr. Perry, who has appeared in recent days to move away from statements that he wouldn’t run in 2012. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Carney retain close ties to Mr. Perry and would now be available if the governor changed his mind.
Campaign aides said the big problem was money and that Mr. Gingrich wasn’t devoting enough time to calling potential donors and asking them to write checks. Nor did he ask leading Republicans in the states to hold fundraisers for him.
It is also an irony that his wife, who was expected to be an asset in his campaign, turned out to be something of an albatross in the eyes of his staff. She ruled out certain modes of travel for herself and her husband and otherwise kept him from campaigning, senior campaign aides said.
His top aides met with him two weeks ago and agreed to prepare a full-time fundraising and stumping schedule for his approval — a schedule that would have demanded far more of his time than he was giving, aides confided.
But in a Wednesday meeting, Mr. Gingrich looked over the plan and in effect dismissed it, saying he would continue to focus on giving speeches to large, wealthy audiences as his main method of raising money.
He flew to New Hampshire later Wednesday. When he returned Thursday, he met again with two of the top staffers — Mr. Johnson and Mr. Dawson — and told them he wasn’t going to change. That decision was what the senior staff had collectively agreed two weeks ago would be the signal for their exit.
Well-paid, full-time Gingrich campaign staff in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have long felt underutilized and resentful that they were being paid to do nothing while the clock was ticking on the candidate for whom they had chosen to work.
All told, 16 aides quit Thursday, including the entire full-time Iowa staff.
Inside the campaign, Mr. Gingrich was known to ignore advice from his team. He also chose to vacation at a crucial time in his campaign and had dismissed the Medicare-reform plan of a fellow Republican, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, as “right-wing social engineering.”
“The campaign was basically a dysfunctional mess, with Callista at one time vetoing commercial air travel for her and her husband on the campaign trail. He thinks he can win the nomination his way, but she’s the bigger problem,” a senior adviser confided.
The universal staff complaint — surprising given Mr. Gingrich’s long political career — was his refusal to campaign full-time. “He was spending time instead on his other projects,” an aide said.
Mr. Tyler said he doesn’t think the resignations will derail the Gingrich bid. “He’s a tough guy, and he can still win, and I hope he does,” he said.
“I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring. The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles,” Mr. Gingrich said in a statement emailed to reporters after news about the resignations broke.
Advisers expect him to give the two major speeches he had set for this month — excerpts of which were shared with The Times.
The first will be Sunday at the Republican Jewish Federation gala in Los Angeles, where the candidate will outline a proposed overhaul of the State Department, including the Foreign Service and the Agency for International Development.
“We must readily see the president’s policies for what they are: the deliberate appeasement of Arab dictators, and worse, the deliberate appeasement of terrorist groups like Hamas, all at the risk of the destruction of Israel and the defeat of the United States,” a speech excerpt reads. “These policies represent a sharp break from the post-World War II political consensus of providing unwavering support to the state of Israel.”
Later this month, Mr. Gingrich plans to give a “major speech,” an aide confided, on reforming the Federal Reserve.