The phoney war surrounding the race for the Republican presidential nomination seemed on the verge of claiming its first scalp last night, after Newt Gingrich's entire inner circle of advisers decided to resign en masse, citing "differences" over the direction of the campaign.
Less than a month after throwing his hat into the ring, America's former House Speaker appears to have fallen out with every member of his team. At least eight senior staffers handed in their resignations at a meeting yesterday morning.
"When the campaign and the candidate disagree on the path, they've got to part ways," said Rick Tyler, a long-standing spokesman for Gingrich who joined the exodus. Scott Rials, another outgoing aide, added: "I think the world of him. But at the end of the day we just could not see a clear path to win. And there was a question of commitment."
In another blow, the former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, who had been Gingrich's national campaign co-chairman, announced he had joined the presidential campaign of the former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
In a message to supporters on his Facebook page, Gingrich said that despite last night's explosive resignations, he remained "committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run". He said he planned a glossy relaunch of his bid for the presidency at an event in Los Angeles this weekend.
That may be too late to save him, though. Despite having a blue-chip CV, years of experience, loads of money and a decent profile among the party faithful, Gingrich had lurched from PR disaster to PR disaster during recent weeks. Even before yesterday, he was a 20/1 outsider to be selected to face Barack Obama at the polls in November next year.
His campaign launch was a flop after he upset the "Tea Party" base by claiming that Republican plans to overhaul the public healthcare programme Medicare amounted to "right-wing social engineering".
In a videotaped incident later uploaded to YouTube, a puce-faced Gingrich was promptly approached by a voter at a rally and angrily told that he was an "embarrassment" to Republicanism. Days later, a gay rights activist threw handfuls of glitter over him at a book signing.
Things then went from bad to worse after it emerged that he had run up a six-figure debt at the jewellery store Tiffany's. Rather than respond to questions about what the money had been spent on, he decided to disappear with third wife Callista on a two-week holiday.
Sources told The Washington Post that the trip particularly upset staff, who had strongly advised against it. Two of the employees who duly resigned, campaign manager Rob Johnson and strategist Dave Carney, are long-standing aides to the Texas Governor, Rick Perry, stoking rumours that Mr Perry is now preparing to join the race.
In retrospect, Gingrich was always going to be a long shot for the presidency. Although he boasted strong name-recognition, after being one of the nation's best-known politicians during the 1990s, he is famously gaffe-prone, and also has what Washington insiders call "zipper problems".Reuse content