Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have withered from being Mitt Romney's legitimate competitors into mere "hecklers," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. The scenarios by which they could win the Republican nomination are becoming more and more "far-fetched," their rhetoric becoming more desperate. The Atlantic Wire would like to take this image one step further, naming them then Statler and Waldorf of the Republican presidential primary -- guys that never get to be the main characters, instead serving as a tool to lower the self-esteem of those Muppets who do.
A quick scan of Monday's headlines shows how far these guys have fallen. As we noted earlier this month, the most ominous sign a presidential candidate is about to quit is a headline noting that the candidate vows to fight on. (It would not be news that Romney indicates he will continue campaigning, see?) Newt and Rick are both facing those headlines. "Gingrich Is Soldiering On, Despite Dearth of Victories," The New York Times says Monday. "Santorum Ignores Pressure to Bow Out to Romney," reads another Times headline. "Could Pennsylvania End Santorum's Political Career Twice?" National Journal wonders. "The Sad End of the Gingrich Campaign," Walter Shapiro writes for The New Republic. Politico's James Hohmann links to a spat between Gingrich and President Obama adviser David Plouffe with the headline "NEWT DEATH WATCH, DAY 13."
The Times' Trip Gabriel reports that even "humiliation has not changed [Newt's] will to stay in the race." His colleagues Jeff Zeleny and Sarah Wheaton write, "The question facing Mr. Santorum was not whether he intended to press forward with his candidacy, but whether he should." Both men, several reports say, are making less progress towards winning the nomination than towards embarrassing Romney on the daily. Both Gingrich and Santorum toted Etch-a-Sketches last week when a Romney aide referenced the toy to explain how the candidate would pivot to a general election message. They looked cynical and trivial, just like classic hecklers from the Muppets, though without the jokes. The duo are also embarrassing themselves: Gingrich spoke to an audience of just 25 in Louisiana last week. Santorum keeps having tantrums on tape, which make for a nice BuzzFeed video roundup.
In his latest outburst, Santorum said a health care question was "bullshit" this weekend, and tried to spin it as a mark of his conservative bona fides on Fox News Monday. "If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you’re not a real Republican," Santorum said. "Curse out"? A single swear, "bullshit," counts as cursing, but not a true cursing out. A real cursing out involves multiple swears, ideally with a swear or two used as an intensifying adjective for another swear. Santorum's swear wasn't even describing the reporter, but his question. Thus, it was a merely a PG-rated Muppets-esque heckle.