PRUDEN: Why won’t Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich quit?

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are as irrelevant now as Ron Paul to the selection of the Republican presidential nomination, and they both know it. They both know that Mitt Romney can start planning his coronation in Tampa.

The latest round of primaries, in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, revealed in starkest terms the unforgiving arithmetic. Mr. Romney now has just over half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to ensure his triumph. He already has more than twice the number of delegates as Mr. Santorum, who has almost twice as many delegates as Mr. Gingrich.

He can reach for the knockout April 24 when five states, all in the Northeast, choose their delegates. The chief battleground is Pennsylvania, because this is where Mr. Santorum is counting on forlorn native-son status in his quest for one last splash for old times’ sake. But Mr. Romney might well win them all — Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island. Mr. Gingrich can only count on posting the usual row of goose eggs. (But he gets to talk a little longer.)

So why won’t they depart now, and leave with grace and taste, while such an exit is still possible?

Newt sort of departed that way on Sunday, with a valedictory — or at least a few words for Mr. Romney that were sort of graceful. “I hit him as hard as I could,” Newt said, “and he hit me as hard as he could. Turns out he had more things to hit with than I did. That’s part of the business.”

Mr. Santorum, who has demonstrated uncommon savvy and skill in keeping alive a candidacy that looked doomed weeks ago, recognizes the scent of a dead horse, too. He hears the word “irrelevant,” as thrown at him by Sen. John McCain. “I’ve endured about eight months of people saying that,” he told the New York Times. “I’ve never been the party establishment’s candidate, and that holds true today, and that’s nothing new.”

Now they’re saying worse than that. “I think it’s lights out for Santorum,” says Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist. “He can run a sideshow campaign for the next couple of months, but the spotlight is on Romney now.” In fact, President Obama is treating him as if he’s already the candidate and the leaves of autumn had already turned to scarlet and gold.

After Mr. Romney described the Republican budget devised by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as “marvelous,” the president mocked him. “Marvelous is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget.” In return Mr. Romney mocked back about a new Obama television commercial: “So the president put out an ad yesterday, talking about gasoline prices and how high they are. And guess who he blamed? Me! Maybe after I’m president I can take responsibility for things I might have done wrong. But this president doesn’t want to take responsibility for his mistakes.”

This is the exchange of fire and brimstone that speaks volumes, and identifies Mr. Romney as the last obstacle between Mr. Obama and four more years, the prospect that stokes the fire under Republicans. The campaign conversation of insult, invective, jawing and abuse is what Rick and Newt, like all candidates, are desperate to get in and stay in. “Irrelevant” is the most dreaded lick with the rough side of the tongue.

From here on to Tampa, the crowds at Santorum and Gingrich “rallies” will be made up mostly of camp followers — aides, advance men, reporters and technicians, though the camera crews will grow progressively fewer. The notion of a deadlocked, brokered convention is now mere fantasy, the dream of political correspondents and pundits stuck at conventions where nothing any longer happens. The smoke-filled rooms, which produced Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, FDR and Harry S. Truman, are gone with the wind. What we see emerging now is what we’ll get.

Newt is trying his best to love Mitt Romney. “We’re both grandparents,” he said on Sunday. “We really see this as the fight for the future of our grandchildren’s country. We are absolutely committed to defeating Barack Obama. This is the most important election, in some ways, since 1860. Obama is a genuine radical.”

The conservatives who regard Mr. Romney as an imposter, another in the line of uninspiring retreads imposed on the party by the Republican establishment, hoping to hit the jackpot on a stolen nickel, will soon have to decide whether disdain for Mitt Romney outweighs scorn for Barack Obama - and act accordingly.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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