A tale of ego and intrigue that nearly upset the Republican primary contest and might even have produced a different nominee and maybe a different President.
As Mitt Romney struggled in the weeks leading up to the Michigan primary, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum came close to agreeing to form a joint “Unity Ticket” to consolidate conservative support and topple Romney.
But then negotiations collapsed in acrimony because Gingrich and Santorum could not agree on who would get to be President.
Ego won out in the end.
Romney managed a three-point win in Michigan on February 28th and was never seriously threatened again.
If it had happened it could have changed the outcome of the general election.
The discussions between the two sides started in early February, just after Gingrich got beat in Florida.
Santorum’s side called Gingrich’s side hoping they could get him to drop out and endorse Santorum, who was going up in the polls.
The story goes that Gingrich had other ideas.
He suggested both men join forces but remain in the race, each concentrating on the states where he matched up best against Romney.
Gingrich thought he could carry Georgia, Delaware, Washington, and Wisconsin – where Santorum would focus on other states in the South and the upper Midwest.
But, as always, there was a catch.
Who gets to be the sheriff and who gets to be the deputy.
Gingrich, of course, thought that he belonged on top of the ticket.
Santorum’s team felt the Gingrich campaign was a sinking ship, and their own man was the obvious choice to lead the ticket.
Setting aside king-of-the-hill for the moment, both agreed Romney was vulnerable.
They figured if Romney lost either Florida or Michigan, the money people would begin to abandon him and an “Anybody But Romney” faction was already emerging among GOP primary voters.
It had to happen soon, if it was going to, because once Romney had started rolling in Florida with the amount of money he had, he would have been very hard to slow down.
The negotiations intensified.
There were a series of closed-door meetings, first with staff, then the two men talking by phone.
Finally, the two candidates met face-to-face and it all crumbled to into ashes of broken dreams.
Gingrich argued that when the party hasn’t been able to agree on a nominee, it always settles on the senior figure – and that’s him.
Santorum didn’t agree.
Neither would give in.
The town wasn’t big enough for both of them.
In the end, they both dropped out.
Romney staggered on, eventually emerging as the GOP nominee.
And one of the stranger subplots of the 2012 race faded into history.