It's January 31st and it’s over. Mitt Romney has blown away the field in the Florida primary and is now the de facto Republican 2012 nominee for president.
So what does everyone do? Huge armies of "embeds" and reporters and producers and “analysts” and bloggers and talking heads have been amassed to cover the campaign. They work at cable television networks, broadcast networks, web-sites, magazines, newspapers and radio stations. And they have been spending money faster than all those dreary people in accounting can count it.
They traveled to Iowa. They went to New Hampshire. Their number grew larger still in South Carolina. By the time they all arrived in Florida, they almost overwhelmed the events they “covered.”
Plane fare, town cars, hotel rooms, rental cars, set up costs, satellite feeds, filing centers, edit rooms, "dinner with sources!" It was adding up to real money. All the while, back in the home offices, the accountants were writing anxious memos to the Executive Suits: "we have to get this spending under control! Forget about the primary/caucus season budget, we're already eating into the conventions budget! And those are in late August and early September. You, Great Suits, must do something, now! Otherwise we're going to have to look at ways to cut back general election coverage."
But never you worry; the Suits understand exactly the seriousness of the problem. Their bonuses are tied to profitability and, as in every presidential election cycle prior, “news gathering” was eating into the bottom line. Unchecked, it would eat right into their bonuses.
So, tonight, word will come down from the executive suites. Florida is definitive! Romney wins! Coverage of the campaign will adjust accordingly.
From this point forward, the Suits will declare, it’s Cover Two (football jargon for zone coverage). No more man-to-man coverage of Santorum. No more man-to-man coverage of Paul. No more man-to-man coverage of Gingrich. Only Romney gets the full treatment.
Out with the on-site primary sets, back into the studios we go. Cut back on the polling, Gallup will do. No more full-team coverage of debates. Less is more. We can pick up what we need from local feeds and the web. All expenses above “x” must be approved by the CFO. There will be no exceptions.
The big dogs, of course, will keep at it. Dan Balz of The Washington Post and John Heilemann of New York Magazine won't be touched. But everyone who isn't a brand name political reporter is back on the leash. The army is already starting to demobilize as you read this. It just doesn’t know it yet.
This is how it ends for Newt Gingrich. On the day after the South Carolina primary, he had two busloads of reporters, bloggers and electronic media types following his every word. Tomorrow, he won't need two buses. He'll be lucky if the seats are filled on one.
Presidential candidates survive on the oxygen of media coverage. It's what keeps them going, enables them to keep raising money. Once the coverage is withdrawn, it's only a matter of time before their candidacies expire. Out of sight, out of mind, out of money.
After tonight, all but one of the GOP presidential candidates will start being taken off life support. By the time we get to Super Tuesday in early March, you probably won’t even remember Rick Santorum’s name.