How much does Newt Gingrich hate Mitt Romney?

Enough to drop out and leave him head-to-head against Santorum? Now *that* would be a dirty trick.

Mitt Romney and his SuperPac not only destroyed Newt Gingrich’s campaign, they assassinated his character: with a little bit of help, of course, from Newton Leroy himself. The Gingrich campaign, having morphed from a book tour into a serious run (for one brief, scary moment) at the Presidency, has now been transformed again, this time into a revenge drama.

But just how angry is Gingrich?

Is he angry enough, for example, to withdraw from the race, putting Romney in the position that was always Romney’s nightmare: head to head against a single extremist? Now that would be a low blow.

Santorum’s surge after Tuesday’s hat trick – he’s now even with, or even ahead of, Romney in national polls of Republicans – shows, for about he fourth time, how badly most of the GOP base doesn’t want Mitt Romney as the nominee: they’d coalesce around Hannibal Lecter if he were the clear alternative.

Santorum, with fewer wives than Gingrich and a less spectacular history of influence-peddling, simply does not present the same target-rich environment that Gingrich does in the context of a Republican primary. Even without the big bucks, Santorum might make a race of it, if it came down to a choice simple enough for even a Tea Partier to understand.

I don’t think this will happen, for the same reason that Bill Clinton missed the chance to take his revenge by resigning in early 1999, which would have stirred up sympathy for Clinton and rage against his foes while allowing Gore to campaign as the incumbent. Yes, Gingrich cherishes his grudges; but it will probably turn out that he cherishes his media appearances even more.