Senior staffers on the presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were at wits' end.
They needed badly, they reckoned, to regain control of an operation they believed was increasingly dominated by the candidate's wife Callista.
According to interviews and email exchanges with former campaign staffers, Fox News has learned that last Thursday, Gingrich's distressed aides, still clinging to hopes that they could turn their candidate around, devised a last-minute plan to bring in heavy hitters to do the job: operatives from key early states like New Hampshire and South Carolina.
They, along with the senior DC staff, would present Gingrich with a list of demands. If he acceded to them, they would stay on. If not, they would bolt, thereby raising the prospect they might bring their talents and connections to rival candidates.
Among the demands: They insisted Gingrich relinquish control of the campaign schedule. No longer would the candidate dictate the pace of the campaign, or have the option to beg off on crucial commitments whenever he pleased.
Second, they wanted Gingrich to "back off" from continued screenings of "Nine Days That Changed The World," the documentary the candidate and his wife co-produced about Pope John Paul II and which originally debuted in 2010.
"It is a great movie but these screenings have nothing to do with running for president," said one former campaign insider. "You cannot have the campaign team distracted by arranging movie screenings."
Out of fear that such an intervention would further inflame the situation, the discontented aides decided the sit-down would consist of a much smaller group.
Katon Dawson, the Gingrich camp's key operative in South Carolina, and Dave Carney, who held the same role in New Hampshire, would not be present. Instead, campaign manager Rob Johnson, senior adviser Sam Dawson and Gingrich himself would butt heads in the long-awaited tete-a-tete.The former speaker's aides pulled no punches in delivering their core message: Give us the reins of the campaign and sit Callista on the bench -- or find yourself a new team.
An aide with knowledge of the meeting tells FOX News Gingrich coolly rejected their demands. Dawson and Johnson quit on the spot.
"Hope was gone for regaining control of the campaign," said a disappointed insider.
A conference call ensued, with staffers spread out in the early balloting states. To a man, each concurred in the group decision: They would all resign en masse.
By that night, the campaign of Gingrich -- once seen as a promising presidential contender, certain to inject vibrant intellectual energy into the discourse -- had lost twenty key staffers, sources told FOX.
"We had the best, most experienced campaign of all the candidates," one of them lamented.
Staffers who have stayed on the campaign counter that this is water under the bridge, and that those who left were only "consultants, not staff," according to spokesman R.C. Hammond. "Newt Gingrich is looking forward to expressing his vision for the country going forward at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans later this week."
However, those who have loyally remained appear to have significantly less experience actually running campaigns than those who bolted.
One of those who resigned, a longtime aide, confirms that Gingrich's much-criticized cruise to the Greek Isles in early June was at Callista's insistence.
That, in turn, had followed a tough week for the candidate, in which he had been forced to recant damaging statements about prominent fellow Republicans and to defend a $500,000 interest-free credit account at the upscale jeweler Tiffany & Co.
"After the Tiffany's story broke and all the media coverage that came with that, having the candidate unavailable was problematic," said the aide. "Having the candidate on vacation was not helpful; but having him on a cruise in the Greek isles was over the top."
Those once closest to Gingrich on a professional level now think he still hasn't wholly invested himself in a full-time presidential candidacy.
"He hasn't made the distinction between being an analyst and an educator versus being a candidate for president of the United States," said one former confidante.
As far as Callista goes, they predict she will remain an obstacle for a team already under pressure to recover from the loss so many experienced campaign operators.
"We begged him to stay the night in South Carolina a few weeks ago so we could hit the trail again in the morning," one aide recalled, "but since we couldn't find a place for Callista to screen her movie, they headed home and went to an opera at the Kennedy Center."
The opera in question was "Don Pasquale": Gaetano Donizetti's 19th century comedy about an older man vexed by his younger extravagant wife.
Political analysts caution that blaming Callista misses the point; the candidate is always responsible for the decisions made as well as the people he or she chooses to let influence those decisions.
As Gingrich himself told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday night, "Yes, we make decisions as a couple, but in the end I take full responsibility... we try to work out our schedule together... we've made movies together, we've written books together. I think that unnerves some of the consultants who thought they ought to own everything, they ought to control everything and they resented the idea that they had to have the two of us actually talk with them about things like our schedules."