My track record for predicting what is going to happen next in the GOP primary contest is hardly spotless, but then this thing has been so weird for so long that no one’s predictions have proved to be reliably accurate. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it another shot.
I think Newt Gingrich will be the nominee.
This isn’t a particularly well-reasoned decision, more just a gut reaction to circumstances as they look now. But then again, I predicted Obama would be the nominee way back in the early days of 2007 pretty much on the same irrational basis.
Here is how I see things shaping up for Newt:
As anybody who has been paying attention to the primary knows, Mitt Romney has consistently failed to poll higher than about 25% with the Republican electorate. The Republican base has been desperately looking for someone – anyone – other than Romney for whom to vote. The conventional wisdom is that Romney is the “serious, electable” candidate that, curiously, nobody can stand because he is also such a transparently insincere animatronic phony.
Another theory I’ve seen expressed (and one I personally believe has quite a bit of explanatory value) is that the Republican base just really, really, really doesn’t want to vote for a Mormon. This isn’t much discussed by the Mainstream Media because they all have taken a solemn vow to never tell the American people that the Republican Party is under the control of crazy bigots. But it does explain why, if Romney is so odious, Jon Huntsman – the other Mormon in the race – hasn’t polled higher than 2%. Huntsman is “serious,” Huntsman is “electable,” and Huntsman is “telegenic.” However, Romney early on sucked up all the Republican voters who don’t actually mind voting for a Mormon, so there is nobody now to whom Huntsman can look for support. If the Mormon-curious Republicans want a presidential candidate, they’ve already got one in Mitt Romney.
So for months the GOP primary has been between Romney and Not-Romney, with various political aspirants taking turns at filling that second role. Michele Bachmann was Not-Romney until Rick Perry entered the race and pushed her out of the spotlight by his clever tactic of running for the GOP nomination as a man. And Perry held on to that spotlight right up until the moment he opened his mouth. Then it was Herman Cain’s turn, and he shone brighter and for far longer than any sane person had a right to expect. But a string of sexual harassment and adultery allegations, coupled with some truly awful, awful gaffes (plus, let’s admit it . . . if the GOP isn’t going to vote for a Mormon, they certainly are never really going to vote for a black guy) ended his day in the sun.
And then the GOP turned its lonely eyes to Newt. But I think Newt might not end up being another flavor-of-the-month. I think he has a real shot at this.
(1) The timing favors him. All Newt has to do is not implode over the next 30 days (media focus on the Christmas holiday should help with that) and then the Iowa caucuses kick off the actual voting. New Hampshire’s primary is one week after that, South Carolina’s primary is a week and a half later, and ten days after that is Florida’s primary.
And right now, Gingrich leads in the national polls, has a 16 point advantage over Romney in Iowa, and absolutely crushes Romney 38-15 in South Carolina. Although Romney has been campaigning in New Hampshire continuously since 2007, Gingrich has him in a statistical tie in that state and the influential Manchester Union-Leader recently endorsed Gingrich over Romney.
Finally, three polling outfits have released surveys this week showing Gingrich pulling well ahead of everybody in the big state of Florida, polling over 50% compared to Romney’s 19%.
The only potential bright spot for Romney in the early Republican calendar is Nevada’s caucus on February 4th. Nevada has a fairly large Mormon population, and the last poll conducted there showed Romney with a 14% lead over Gingrich. But even that good news comes with a huge caveat: that poll was taken more than a month ago, and even then Romney split his lead with Cain. Now that Cain has imploded, the smart money is that most of Cain’s supporters will be picked up by the new Not-Romney . . . and that is Gingrich.
(2) The Snowball Effect really favors him. Everybody talks about the “snowball effect” that comes from winning early primary contests, but the effect should be even more powerful this year. After all, the Crazy Republican Base has been desperately, desperately trying to find their Not-Romney. If the base had been able to coalesce around a single candidate two months ago, we would all right now be talking about how Mitt Romney is a perpetual also-ran.
But if Gingrich picks up Iowa, keeps it close in New Hampshire, and then absolutely annihilates Romney in South Carolina and Florida – as currently expected – you can pretty much write off any of the other potential Not-Romney candidates. And then the Crazy Base will coalesce around a single candidate and it will be Not-Romney Newt Gingrich.
(3) Both wings of the Republican Party favor him. Newt gets to appeal to the crazy Republican majority and to the non-crazy Republican minority. The Crazy Republican Base knows full well that New Gingrich is exactly who he always has been: the bombastic, bomb-throwing hot-head who once shut down the federal government and who had the brass balls to impeach Bill Clinton for having an affair while Gingrich himself was having an affair. They love this guy!
But since leaving Congress in disgrace, Newt Gingrich has made a living appearing on Very Serious Political TeeVee . . . and not only on Fox. For years Americans have turned on CNN only to catch Newt’s grinning, spittle-flecked, pumpkin-head face frothing at them from their TeeVee screens. But Americans are notorious for believing anything they see on TeeVee, and if they see it on CNN they just know it must be respectable. For a lot of people, Gingrich is suddenly going to seem a “very serious, electable candidate.”
And if the non-crazy, serious Republican minority can find Gingrich acceptable, then why not do the easy thing and throw in with the crazy Republican base that actually calls the shots? I strongly suspect that Newt Gingrich will turn out to be acceptable to both wings of the Republican Party – the Crazies and the Orderlies – and that spells curtains for Mitt.
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So there you have it, my latest irresponsible political speculation. No doubt something incredibly unlikely will pop up within the next 30 days – it is the Republican primary, after all – and I’ll be proved entirely wrong, but that’s my best guess and I’m sticking to it.