Gingrich’s grim ground game

For all the talk about Newt Gingrich and his grand, big ideas — most of which are neither big nor grand — a vision doesn’t get voters to the polls; a campaign ground game does.

There’s a reasonable debate underway in many circles as to whether Gingrich’s recent rise is meaningful, a mirage, or a miracle — or perhaps some combination therein — and for what it’s worth, count me among the skeptics who still find it very hard to believe the disgraced former House Speaker is the likely nominee. But one of the factors driving my doubts is the fact that Gingrich’s entire campaign lacks basic, necessary components.

In an embarrassing display of organizational weakness, for example, Gingrich recently failed to qualify for the ballot in Missouri’s primary. The campaign structure, such as it is, simply didn’t follow through. Similarly, the Gingrich team was supposed to provide New Hampshire officials with a list of 40 committee volunteers who would represent the campaign as Republican National Convention delegates — but Gingrich’s staff couldn’t track down 40 willing supporters. Instead, they submitted a hand-scrawled, typo-ridden list of 27 people.

Of the major Republican candidates, Gingrich was the only one who failed to submit a full list of delegates and alternates — and polls show him running second in the state, so presumably he has some fans in the Granite State. Even Bachmann got it done, and she’s not even trying to compete in New Hampshire.

And there’s Iowa, where Gingrich is considered a very strong contender, despite the fact that he opened his very first campaign office in the state this week, just five weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

What’s going on? Politico reports that Gingrich has a “skeletal campaign operation,” which resembles a “mom-and-pop political operation.”

At a recent Republican Party of Iowa dinner, several Republicans discussed how impressed they were by Gingrich and said they wanted to help his campaign, if only they could find someone to contact.

Gingrich freely admits that the process of gearing up for a national campaign — the kind he was prepared to run before his initial staff resigned en masse in June — has been dizzying.

“This is disorienting. This is such a rapid change that we’re having to rethink our own internal operations right now and where we are,” Gingrich told reporters after addressing a Polk County GOP event Thursday night.

This was literally just last night. In other words, just 34 days before the Iowa caucuses, the alleged frontrunner has supporters who can’t even volunteer with his campaign, because there’s no operation for them to contact.

And if Gingrich somehow manages to do well despite the bare-bones operations in the early nominating states, how will the campaign manage once the race becomes a national contest against the well-organized Romney team? Neither Gingrich nor his aides have the foggiest idea.

Independent of whether Gingrich self-destructs and destroys his own chances, if his campaign falters down the stretch, this is likely to be a key reason why.