Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why They Like Newt

Theory one of the Newt surge is that it's caused by something about Newt, which suggests that it's real, much more real than the Cain surge or the Perry surge or the Bachmann surge or the Trump surge.

Theory two is that Newt is surging because voters who aren't paying much attention yet and mostly like most of the candidates have heard nice things about him most recently, and so they'll echo that back to pollsters -- but it has little to do with what they will do when they focus on the race, receiving information from ads and other places, and make a real vote choice.

I've seen some quite interesting and creative versions of Theory One recently, but I'm still not buying it. For example: the normally very sensible Jamelle Bouie argues that the fiasco of Newt's term as Speaker "wasn’t enough to damage his standing among Republican voters. Gingrich fought the good fight, and this gives him a lifetime pass for a whole host of transgressions that would sink any other candidate," with "the good fight" being his grappling with Bill Clinton and his perceived role in the 1994 landslide.

Which makes sense...except it just isn't consistent with the polling. Newt began the campaign with reasonable favorability scores, but they tanked after his awful spring, in which he attacked the Ryan budget, lost his staff, and everyone talked about Tiffany. The "forged in battle" story would work if Newt had retained his good personal numbers but simply lost out in the horse race polling, but that's not what happened at all.

Of course, even if I'm right about this, it doesn't at all prove by itself that Newt will collapse. What it does show, however, is that he's as vulnerable to attacks or unfavorable publicity as anyone else. And given that we also know that anyone in WH 2012 can benefit from a wave of positive attention -- that's the nice thing about the Trump surge -- there's really nothing to explain here in the first place. Remember, there were plenty of Theory Ones about each of the other surge candidates.


  1. One thing to keep in mind, though: despite how skeptical you and other commentators are at the prospect that Newt can manage to secure the nomination, it seems to be unnerving the Mitt campaign, who recently has been sending out attacks at Gingrich, something I don't recall them doing with any of the other surge candidates. Part of the feeling is not so much that Newt is fundamentally different from the earlier ones--though he may indeed be in some ways, especially with regard to his level of government experience--but that there simply is a much smaller window of time for his self-destruction than there was for any of the other candidates. It may be enough time given what we know of Newt's temperament, but it's cutting it close.

    I'm also wondering how serious Newt's campaign is. Did he enter this race with the intention of winning, or just to bask in the spotlight and/or further his career? And if it wasn't serious at the start, has he really grown more serious in response to his surge, as some pundits are assuming? I was struck by his statement that his impending administration would appoint John Bolton as the Sec. of State. Serious candidates just don't talk like that. They may throw out names of possible choices, but they don't state definitively that they'll appoint one specific person to a specific cabinet position. It was an obvious attempt to appeal to the right's id, but it's a monumentally reckless commitment for someone with actual intentions of becoming president in the near future. Of course, reckless governance isn't exactly a new concept for Gingrich.

  2. I’m with you JB, I still don’t see anything that shows this Newt wave is any different than the previous waves we’ve seen other than Romneyland’s new attempt to destroy Newt. Which isn’t necessarily new, after all the Mittster went after Perry back when right?

    In other things-that-won’t-happen news Eric Erickson (the one and only) is already calling for a brokered convention

    I’m telling you guys, Quayle for America.

  3. >after all the Mittster went after Perry back when right?

    But Perry was universally considered a serious candidate. That wasn't the case for Trump, Cain, Bachmann, or Newt. That makes it all the more striking that Mitt has decided to go after Newt.

    I still think Newt's not gonna make it. But I'm not as confident in that prediction as I was with the previous unserious surge candidates. Maybe I'm just suffering from a little liberal wishful thinking. Having Newt as the nominee would be just too good to be true.

  4. I suspect Newt may will win in Iowa, but he's still got plenty of time to stumble, foot-in-mouth style, or dragged down by the weight of his own person idea-ridden history.

    Newt's rise says more about Romney's shortcomings. And a lot about the insiders JB keeps mentioning and their need for a comforting insider.

    I think the man in the room everyone keeps forgetting remains Ron Paul. Bue hey, I'm not a political scientist. I just hear my 25-year old kid thinking he doesn't look too bad when compared to the GOP alternatives.

  5. I've argued against the meme that folks are just not paying attention re: Gingrich, but I'm changing my mind after hearing a few right-wing Newt skeptics on Diane Rehm's show today.

    Jonathan argues that Gingrich supporters don't really remember his transgressions, and I push back that they do, but the Diane Rehm segment makes you realize that there's a big difference between remembering, in general, that a person behaved badly, and recalling the litany.

    I think a lot of people probably vaguely recall Gingrich transgressions, but they probably don't remember those fiery speeches calling out his opponents delivered to an empty chamber because CSPAN didn't span back to the crowd. Or the extraordinary efforts to take down Jim Wright. Etc.

    Much as it pains me to admit it, I think Jonathan is probably right and I was wrong, in that the voting public, having a vague sense of Gingrich's misdeeds, still has a huge potential to be repulsed by him when reminded of the specifics.

  6. Theory 3: ABR. Note that ABR is a theory that doesn't say that voters aren't paying attention, but that they are actively casting about for the Anti-Romney.

    You don't like this theory (I'm more ambivalent about it), but I think it's getting enough consideration to be mentioned.

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  8. Nice post - Its a fascinating dance going on right now with the Republicans...

    Politics Vibe

  9. On Romney's response: a couple of things. To say that Newt doesn't have a real chance isn't to say that Romney shouldn't ever attack him; part of the reason that Newt (IMO of course) is implausible is because he's so easy to attack. Just as I'll say that general election campaigns don't make a significant difference in part because both candidates will run a professional full campaign.

    That said...well, this is long. I think I'll do a post on it instead.

  10. >part of the reason that Newt (IMO of course) is implausible is because he's so easy to attack.

    Trump is easy to attack. Bachmann is easy to attack. Cain is easy to attack. As far as I know, Romney has completely refrained from attacking any of them, even at the height of their polling surges. The fact that Mitt is going after Newt suggests pretty strongly that he views him as a potential threat, unlike those previous surge candidates. That doesn't mean Newt actually is a threat; it just means that's what Mitt and his team have concluded. But the fact that they would draw such a conclusion suggests that the Newt surge is being treated more seriously by a lot of people than the Trump/Cain/Bachmann surges were. The Newt surge may turn out to be no more substantive than the others, but it seems a lot more people are taking it seriously than was the case for any of the other surge candidates except Perry (who everyone took seriously). The common vibe I'm getting from the media toward the Newt surge is one of skepticism, but at a considerably lower level than was applied to Trump, Cain, or Bachmann, and I think it is that level of reaction that is fueling Mitt's decision to go negative against Newt, something he has almost entirely refrained from up to now.

  11. Kylopod, I agree. I also think that Newt may have shrewdly made a big deal out of not attacking others (particularly Romney) in several debates so that it would feel unseemly if he were attacked. Newt's big idea might be that the best way to hide a sordid past is to make attacking that past unseemly.

  12. The reason it's more of a concern to the Romney team is purely the logistics of when the Newt surge is happening. If it had been during the summer, I think he'd have felt he could let him self-destruct as he did Bachmann et al. Also Romney was concentrating on attacking who he felt he'd be facing in the fall. Now that's less certain if he doesn't attack. He also needs to show he's not made of plastic himself. The thing is though when he uses a term like appeasment, hoping to appeal to those red meat hungry righties, he uses it wrongly and turns off the middle with something that can be used against him the fall for its ignorance of not understanding what appeasement means which gave Obama the perfect opportunity to bring up getting bin Laden and the other al Qaeda leaders. Romney doesn't seem to have political sense which is why he has lost so many political races. It seems likely he'll lose this one too even if it is to a brokered convention with someone not in there now as the eventual nominee.

  13. Without having read the roundup in the next thread, its important to remember that Gingrich's vulnerabilities are of a decidedly different nature than previous ridiculous Republicans. For example, maybe you thought Marcus Bachmann's jazz hands indicated his gay therapy operation was a front for a pickup joint. Or that Sarah Palin surely didn't journey 18 hours to drop her final spawn. Or Herman Cain...where do you even begin.

    For various reasons, these are all difficult battles for the ideological conservative culture warrior. Not so with Gingrich. Gingrich's crimes are of the classic, inside Washington, intrusive-government abuse-of-power variety.

    There's a perception sometimes on the left that the ideological right embraces big powerful institutions, and while the right tends to vote for them, that's as often as not driven by mistrust of the alternative. As a movement I think groups like the Tea Party distrust big institutional abusive anything.

    Which should make Gingrich a sitting duck.

  14. I think the reason why Romney is attacking Newt now has a lot to do with how Newt's surge has interfered with Romney's game plan. My view is that Romney's goal was to sit back out of the limelight as always the presumptive nominee, but to avoid the scrutiny as the leading candidate. Romney's assumption seemed to be that at the end of the day, after the competition flames out, primary voters will hold their noses and vote for him as the 'least worst' candidate. Romney never tried to compete in IA and SC was equally a lost cause, but he assumed that after winning NH that FL would be his firewall and the momentum he would pick up from FL would either sink his rivals and cause them to drop out as donors and support dried up (like Bush in SC in 2000) or carry him to Super Tuesday where his status as presumptive nominee will be secured (like McCain in 2008). Problem is, Republican primary voters have shown no inclination to hold their collective noses. Gingrich's lead in FL has breached his defenses, Gingrich's national poll lead is large and growing at a stage in the race where Romney would have hoped at the very least that former Cain and Perry supporters would go back to undecided. And most distressing of all for Romney, after 6 years of campaigning for the job, his poll numbers among Republicans both nationally and in key primary states have not budged since the last time out (25% or so). He therefore has not convinced a singled additional Republican primary voter to suppport him despite 6 years of effort.

    In summary, his campaign strategy is a shambles and he is acutely aware of how vulnerable he is. That's why he is actively trying to remind everyone of how and why Newt's campaign imploded last year. His problem is though that no matter what he says, I doubt anyone will listen. And a bigger problem for Romney is that attacks on the scale that would be needed to take Newt down could easily backfire with primary voters, like we saw with the blaming of Democrats and the liberal media for the fall of Cain. I also believe that unless Newt has a dead girl/live boy problem, he is pretty immune to scandal because the Freddie Mac revelations on their own would have brought down lesser mortals, but combine that with the rest of the things that have come out just during this primary, like the Tiffany's thing, mandate supporting non-profit thing and Paul Ryan heresy and you have to wonder what it would take. And the only thing I can think of is getting baited by the Romney campaign into losing his temper, like what Lee Atwater and Poppy Bush did to Dole in NH in '88.

  15. Jonathan, I happened to catch Paul Begala on CNN yesterday. While he tried very hard to avoid sounding dismissive about Newt, he trotted out a line that he has apparently used a fair amount in the past.

    "Every story involves Newt, a can of gasoline, and a BIC lighter."

    I think it's a great line. Funny and accurate.

    He was careful to say that Gingrich does an awful lot of things well. ... But ...


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