Could Gingrich Win The GOP Nomination?

Could Newt Gingrich really become the Republican nominee? Stranger things have happened.

Newt Gingrich’s status as the newest “not Romney” frontrunner  is now firmly established. He is leading the national polls, he leads in Iowa and South Carolina, and he looks to be starting to chip into Mitt Romney’s previously impervious lead in New Hampshire. Perhaps most surprisingly, Gingrich is also surging in Florida, the state that will serve and the denouement to January’s whirlwind of early primaries. In three new polls — from Insider Advantage, American Research Group, and Public Policy Polling — Gingrich leads Romney by more than 20 points. As we head into the final two debates before the Iowa Caucuses, and the holiday season, it seems rather unlikely that there will be any major changes in the state of race between now and the evening of January 3rd when Iowans go to their caucus locations. Absent any major gaffes by Gingrich, it’s quite likely that he’ll go into caucus day as the presumptive leader in the GOP race, although his lack of organization there makes one wonder if he could actually pull off a victory notwithstanding what they polls say.

The conventional wisdom up until now, which I have generally agreed with, is that Mitt Romney is still the inevitable nominee despite all of the sturm und drang that we’ve been through over the past several months. They may prefer a more hard-core conservative on principle, this argument goes, but in the end Republicans want to go into the General Election with a candidate who can win, and by all accounts the only person that describes right now is Mitt Romney. But, let’s posit an alternative scenario If Gingrich manages to win Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, or even just two of those three, while coming closer in New Hampshire than anyone expected. Leaving aside for the moment the delegate count, which is what really matters in the end, this means Gingrich would end the first month of voting having won the majority of the races. Usually when that happens, the momentum of the race starts moving in the direction of the frontrunner. Romney would be faced with the dilemma of having to be the comeback candidate, and he’d probably have to spend his own money to do it. It’s not inconceivable that Gingrich’s January momentum would carry him to Super Tuesday on March 6th, and beyond, as the other Tea Party candidates melt away and their supporters line up behind him. If that happens, Romney would be in serious trouble.

Jonathan Bernstein isn’t convinced, and argues that Romney  is still the inevitable GOP nominee:

On the voter level, there is no appetite for a Stop Romney campaign. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms something you don’t hear much: Republicans and conservatives may not have settled on Mitt Romney as their nominee, but they really do like him. There is no ceiling. That suggests he still has an excellent chance to eventually expand his support well beyond his current numbers.

As the Post polling team reports, solid majorities of Romney’s target audience have a “favorable” view of him, whether it’s Republicans (56% favorable), conservative Republicans (63%), or even those who think of themselves as very conservative (57%). What’s striking is that Romney’s unfavorable and even his strong unfavorable numbers among these groups are simply not at levels which indicate that he’ll have problems with them. Among all Republicans, 29% give him an unfavorable rating and only 8% are strongly unfavorable, with similar numbers for conservative Republicans (25%/7%) and very conservative voters (28%/10%). Those aren’t great, but they do mean that at least three-quarters of GOP primary voters could support him.

One could make an interesting comparison between conservative opposition to Romney and liberal disappointment with Barack Obama. In both cases, there’s clearly something there — but it’s mostly an elite pre-occupation that doesn’t seem to really touch ordinary voters.

Bernstein has the numbers right, but his argument doesn’t explain why these same voters who have a generally favorable view of Mitt Romney are so unwilling to say that they’ll vote for him. Perhaps this is all just a long flirtation and the voters are expressing an ideological preference that won’t necessarily coincide with who they chose when it’s time to cast a ballot or appear at a caucus. We won’t really know that until people actually start voting, but it doesn’t seem to coincide with voter behavior in past elections. By this time four years ago, Mike Huckabee was already beginning the rise in Iowa that would lead to his victory in the caucuses there, and John McCain was only a week away from the time when his poll numbers in New Hampshire would begin to skyrocket toward the victory that revived his campaign. If the voters really were going to move to Romney after flirting with the other candidates, wouldn’t we see signs of that soon? Instead, Romney seems to be losing support even in the formerly impervious redoubt of New Hampshire. If there’s going to be a move to Romney, it’s going to have to start soon or it might get caught up in what the media is likely to start calling Newtmentum.

Jason Pye takes the opposite position of Bernstein, and sees Gingrich on a path to win the nomination handily:

Gingrich’s best friend right now is time. If he can sustain for December (a time when many voters tune out politics), keep his past personal issues from becoming a distraction, and can win Iowa, that momentum should carry him forward to win many or most of the early primary states. He would be in excellent position come Super Tuesday (3/6/12), enough to win the Republican nomination.

That’s roughly the same scenario I outlined above, but it strikes me that it requires two things.

First, Gingrich will have to avoid his historic tendency for self-destruction. While he’s clearly a more seasoned politician than he was 13 years ago, there are signs the old New is still there. You can see it in his flip-flops over Libya and the Ryan Plan, as well as his recent comments that he didn’t need to lobby because he made so much money from speaking fees. Last night on Sean Hannity’s show, Gingrich said when he was in Congress he played a part in ending the Cold War, something which I’m sure comes to the great surprised of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Newt has this tendency to be his own worst enemy, and despite the fact that his reputation doesn’t seem to be hurting him right now, it could resurrect itself again and pop his bubble rather quickly.

Second, Gingrich’s path to the nomination will still have to deal with his past. I’m not referring so much to his personal issues, everyone knows about those already and they’ve evaluated Gingrich in that respect, bringing that up again isn’t going to move very many people. Professionally, though, Gingrich’s own record reveals him to be even more out of step with the base that is apparently rallying around him right now than Mitt Romney. Despite his repeated denials, Gingrich quite obviously spent a good deal of his post-Speakership selling his influence to the highest bidder.  Some on the right are starting to recognize this. Joshua Green argues that a Gingrich nomination would mean the death of the Tea Party. Michael Tanner points out that Gingrich would mean a return to the Big Government conservatism of the Bush Administration, and Dan Foster finds the prospect of a party where limited government is the theme of the day backing Newt Gingrich simply baffling. Ron Paul has already pointed the way on how to attack Gingrich on his record, and there are signs that the Romney campaign is getting ready to go negative on Gingrich, something they haven’t done with any other “not Romney” so far, except for minor barbs at Perry during the September debates.

Could this be enough to derail Gingrich, or at least set back his momentum? Potentially yes, I would think. Even if Gingrich does run the table in January, there would still be a month before Super Tuesday during which a negative campaign could take hold. Once conservatives know the truth about Gingrich, they may finally abandon their quixotic search for perfection and get in line behind Romney. If they don’t, and Gingrich is the nominee, well let’s just say I don’t think the Obama family will have to worry about moving for another four years.

Photo via Associated Press

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Hey Norm says:

    I think you are right…Newt does appear to lining up to take Iowa, SC, and Florida.
    The only thing I don’t know…and I don’t think anyone knows…is if the zealots in Iowa will cotton more to a serial matrimony-ist or a mormon.
    I think Romney gives Obama a run for the money…but still loses in the face of an improving economy…and his own flip-floppity-ness.
    Gingrich simply goes down in a landslide.

  2. MBunge says:

    I think you’re missing a couple of things that work to Newt’s advantage.

    1. Conservative voters don’t really care a lot about many of the things for which Newt is being criticized.

    2. Even if they do, they’re been trained by right wing thought leaders to respond more to personal qualities than policy details. How else do you explain Chris Cristie?

    3. I’m not sure right wing media cares about much about the things for which Gingrich is being slammed. Do you think Rush or Sean are going to make a big deal about influence peddling?

    4. Gingrich’s negatives were already high and well established before any of this, which means the people trending toward him have already made the decision to discount things which might otherwise bother them. That would seem to make it more likely they’ll discount any new such negatives.

    5. Romney is just that bad of a political candidate. I haven’t been around forever, but Romney is the most obviously, painfully phony candidate I’ve ever seen run for a major office. There’s a plastic unreality about nearly every damn thing he does. For reasons I’m not entirely clear on, that doesn’t appear to register with our political elites. It does appear to come through to actual voters.

    Mike

  3. Scott F. says:

    The base is convinced that the country will embrace staunch conservative principles if only someone will vociferously defend them. They’ve bought the idea that Newt is the person to do that – I’ve heard otherwise cogent Republicans claim Gingrich would wipe the floor with Obama in a debate – and they will overlook Newt’s personal and ethical shortcomings to have their worldview championed without apology.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    @ Mike…
    Re: #3…Rush is no fan of Gingriches.

  5. Jib says:

    There is a tide running against the conventional wisdom candidate, whoever that is. This is bigger than the republicans and it has been going on for a couple of election cycles. Obama beating Clinton was part of the tide. People dont trust the conventional wisdom opinion makers any more. A lot of things conventional wisdom has pushed have proven to be wrong. It is very wide ranging from ‘Dot.com is not a bubble, its a paradigm shift’ to ‘housing values always go up’ to ‘exporting jobs will make us all richer in the long run’ to ‘cutting taxes will make use richer in the long run’ to ‘the stimulus will make a richer in the short run’ to …….

    I know the reality is more nuanced than the above list but the general perception held by average people on both the left and the right is that either we have been lied to by the opinion makers or they have no frigging idea what is actually going on ( I lean towards the latter). Either way, their opinions are no longer to be trusted. Tell me Romney should be the nominee, and I start looking hard for other options. Tell me Obama can never win, Clinton is the only hope, and you have sealed to deal for Obama.

    The republicans should nominate someone they really can support, not a compromise candidate that people pick just because CW thinks he can win. Personally, I have a hard time believing Newt is the best they can do but bless their hearts, they are trying.

  6. MBunge says:

    @Hey Norm: “Re: #3…Rush is no fan of Gingriches. “

    Newt’s rise to the top has been underway for a few weeks now and Rush hasn’t said much of anything against it. Rush certainly hasn’t tried to prop up Romney at all.

    Mike

  7. Barb Hartwell says:

    @Scott F.:
    The Republicans have to overlook these clowns shortcomings as they have no choice. They should be outraged that it boils down to this. The sludge at the bottom of the barrel.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    They may prefer a more hard-core conservative on principle, this argument goes, but in the end Republicans want to go into the General Election with a candidate who can win, and by all accounts the only person that describes right now is Mitt Romney.

    Aren’t these the same people who think Obama is a socialist? They are capable of thinking just about anything.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    I can’t believe even conservatives will be able to stomach this obnoxious twat.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Aren’t these the same people who think Obama is a socialist?

    I think we both know that in reality, Obama is the love child of Chairman Mao and Angela Davis. When liberals are ready to man up and admit the truth we get get to the business of saving the Republic…

  11. gVOR08 says:
  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    I can’t believe even conservatives will be able to stomach this obnoxious twat.

    obnoxious twat…lol, I know Newt Harry and Newt is no Brarrck Obama…

  13. ponce says:

    Oh please oh please oh please!

  14. Hey Norm says:

    The Newtster on Hannity last night:

    “…We would have about two hours after the inaugural address, we would stop and sign between 100 and 200 executive orders and presidential findings,” he said. “For example, the very first executive order we’ll sign will terminate all of the White House czars as of that moment. So they’ll all be gone. The goal is, by the time President Obama lands in Chicago, we will have dismantled about 40 percent of his government by signing a whole series of extensive orders…”
    “…The economy starts to recover late on election night, when people realize Obama is gone. Literally that night, you’ll see businesses making hiring decisions. You’ll see investors making investment decisions. You’ll see folks going ahead with new startups who were waiting and with bated breath…”

    If you are prone to believe such BS…as the Tea Party is…then you can see the appeal. Dismantle 40% of the Government by Executive Order? Sure you will Newt.
    That a major political party sees him as the answer to the nation’s problems is staggering.

  15. ponce says:

    That a major political party sees him as the answer to the nation’s problems is staggering.

    Every party gets the candidate they deserve.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    That has been the GOP’s message for ~3 years now: get rid of the Obamamonster and *blamo* everything will be ok again.

  17. Gustopher says:

    Go, Newt, Go!

    I am so enjoying this Republican primary. It’s clear that the voters don’t want Willard “Mitt” Romney, and it’s clear that their other options are terrible.

    I’m a little surprised Ron Paul hasn’t been doing better.

  18. Scott F. says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Wow… just wow.

  19. mantis says:

    I can’t believe even conservatives will be able to stomach this obnoxious twat.

    Actually, that’s why he’s doing so well. The most important aspect of a candidate for the Republican base is not policy, principles, or electability, but prickishness. This stems from their desire to, above all else, piss off and stick it to liberals. Every big star on the right with any staying power, from Coulter to Rush to Palin and on and on, has one thing in common. They employ snark and insults directed at “enemies” (i.e. Democrats, the left, Hollywood, the media, hippies, etc.) at every turn. Gingrich is a prick, and he shows it every time he speaks, and they love it. It’s behind their affection for candidates like Cain and Fred Thompson.

    It’s weird, really. They seem to believe that politics is won in the same way a schoolyard insult fight is won. And judging from the fact that the Democrats are not going after Newt at all despite his rise (as they didn’t with Cain, focusing on the real GE threat: Romney), it seems clear that their opponents are happy to let them employ such a strategy. Newt doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning the general election, but they think he does because they for some reason believe that elections end with whoever got the last zinger in, rather than at the ballot box.

  20. Hey Norm says:

    @ Rob…
    Well it is a lot easier than coming up with viable policies of your own, when you think about it.
    Trouble in the Middle-east. Get rid of Obama. Economy not recovering fast enough for you? Get rid of Obama. Erectile dysfunction? Get rid of Obama.
    They have no productive ideas. The only idea they have is to get rid of Obama. What are they going to do on January 21st? Who are they going to blame then? Oh wait, I forgot how it works in republican world…the Economic crash that happened on Bush’s watch was Obama’s fault. 9.11, which occured on Bush’s watch, was Clinton’s fault. Whoever wins, Newt or Romney, will not be accountable for anything so they don’t need any ideas. Fabulous.

  21. anjin-san says:

    You’ll see folks going ahead with new startups who were waiting and with bated breath…”

    I am going to be working on two startup projects next year, both for entrepreneurs with long track records of success. One of them is a staunch conservative.

    Have not heard a peep about how Obama is stopping us from moving forward. Does anyone really buy into this fantasy?

  22. anjin-san says:

    the Obamamonster and *blamo* everything will be ok again.

    Well, duh. Because everything was just swell until the day he took office…

  23. Jr says:

    Newt has a very good chance of pulling this off, if things remain as they are he will win Iowa, place second in NH, win NC, and win FL. That might be too big of a hole for Romney to climb out off.

  24. jukeboxgrad says:

    mantis:

    The most important aspect of a candidate for the Republican base is not policy, principles, or electability, but prickishness. This stems from their desire to, above all else, piss off and stick it to liberals. Every big star on the right with any staying power, from Coulter to Rush to Palin and on and on, has one thing in common. They employ snark and insults directed at “enemies” (i.e. Democrats, the left, Hollywood, the media, hippies, etc.) at every turn. Gingrich is a prick, and he shows it every time he speaks, and they love it.

    I was about to write something similar, and then I saw you had said it better than I was going to.

    This process is about emotion, not reason. That’s why it’s pointless to recite facts to a believer. The base is looking for someone who is willing to behave obnoxiously toward the groups they don’t like. Other things hardly matter.

    The power of Newt’s obnoxiousness is nicely illustrated in a youtube here. The person who posted it said this:

    Newt Gingrich BLASTS Chris Wallace for his “Gotcha” Questions at IA Debate … Pure gold! It’s about time a Republican candidate slammed the liberal media for asking bogus ‘gotcha’ questions

    Of course what’s really “pure gold” is the idea of describing Chris Wallace of Fox as “liberal media.” This is Poe’s Law in action.

    Jump to 1:22 to hear Newt accuse Wallace of “playing Mickey Mouse games.” Notice Newt’s angry tone and facial expression, and listen to the crowd. And then listen to the crowd responding to Wallace when he tries to defend himself. The important thing to notice is that there are a bunch of people who strongly approve of Newt’s prickishness. This is what really matters, and it overwhelms any concerns about facts, policies, or character.

    To understand Newt’s success you just have to grasp that the GOP base is deeply angry and deeply irrational. This is why I’m optimistic that he will be nominated. He’s had great luck with the timing.

    doug:

    Dan Foster finds the prospect of a party where limited government is the theme of the day backing Newt Gingrich simply baffling.

    Pay attention to what mantis said and you’ll see that it’s not baffling at all. “Limited government” is a concept. Concepts get a lot of attention, but this is about feelings, not concepts. An entirely different thing.

  25. progcivlib says:

    if this were about concepts we’d be seeing a race between Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson, not this 12 month old moldy diarrhea that we’re witnessing now.

  26. Hey Norm says:

    “I’m going to be the nominee,” the former Speaker told ABC News. “It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”

    So there you have it. No need for expensive primaries.

  27. mantis says:

    @progcivlib:

    if this were about concepts we’d be seeing a race between Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson, not this 12 month old moldy diarrhea that we’re witnessing now.

    Yep. And I for one would be far less embarrassed by my country if that were true.

  28. Hey Norm says:

    @ Mantis…
    No need to be embarrassed…unless of course one of them wins.
    Even that would not be as bad as if Palin was the nominee. (she could still be VP…right?)
    And Canada has a number of very liveable cities.

  29. steve says:

    Newt could easily win the nomination, but I cannot bring myself to vote for a lobbyist.

    Steve

  30. ponce says:

    Newt could easily win the nomination, but I cannot bring myself to vote for a lobbyist.

    Newt’s advocating the repeal of child labor laws is a tough hurdle to get over as well.

  31. Nightrider says:

    The Tea Party aka GOP only believes in limiting the governments they don’t run. No contradiction there.

  32. OzarkHillbillly says:

    MY wife still wants to know why she should be a citizen of the “greatest country of the world”.

    I am having a hard time finding a reason.

  33. john personna says:

    Good catch at Poltico:

    In an interview that was posted on Freddie Mac’s website at the time, Gingrich said: “The housing GSEs have made an important contribution to homeownership and the housing finance system.” He added that more regulation of them was needed but that “conservatives should embrace and want to extend as widely as possible” the GSEs.

    If the GOP primary voters can roll over and accept that flip, they are empty vessels.

  34. MBunge says:

    @john personna: “If the GOP primary voters can roll over and accept that flip, they are empty vessels.”

    Which is worse…being stupid enough to swallow the “Freddie Mac is responsible for the housing crisis” nonsense or abandoning that belief when it becomes inconvenient?

    Mike

  35. john personna says:

    @MBunge:

    Or keeping the (crazy) belief they were responsible, and just accepting that a GOP candidate would shill for them … because “hey, that’s politics?”

    I should note that I did not hold the GSEs responsible for the bubble, but I was down on them for corruption and their lobbying-back of congress using essentially public monies. From my point of view Newt is emblematic of what was wrong at Freddie, while later joining the “blame Freddie” clown circus.

  36. Ron Beasley says:

    Roger Ailes will decide who the Republican nominee is. If he really thinks Obama can be defeated he will torpedo Newt in the next few weeks since Romney is the only one who can defeat Obama.

  37. mantis says:

    If he really thinks Obama can be defeated he will torpedo Newt in the next few weeks since Romney is the only one who can defeat Obama.

    I don’t know that he’s behind Newt yet, but they sure are going after Romney in the Murdoch Primary. Bret Baier grilled Multiple-Choice Mitt pretty good, and then went on O’Reilly to talk about how Romney whined about it after the interview. That is no accident. They are gunning for him now, and if they want to they can make damned sure he loses. Wouldn’t it be poetic to see Fox torpedo the Republicans’ only chance at a win?

  38. Ron Beasley says:

    @mantis: I saw the interview and I didn’t think it was that hostile – on any other network it would have been reasonable. Romney whined because he didn’t get softballs. If you want softballs you go on Hannity or O’Reilly (although O’Reilly can surprise once in awhile). Bret Baier doesn’t throw softballs and Romney couldn’t handle it.

  39. jukeboxgrad says:

    john:

    In an interview that was posted on Freddie Mac’s website at the time

    That’s awesome, thanks for posting that. What a nice example of the internet working properly. Politico credits the find to the blog Verum Serum, which in turn found the material due to the miraculous Wayback Machine. It’s because of them that you can see a preserved copy of the original page (link).

    I like this blurb at the bottom:

    Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich is an author, commentator, and founder of the Center for Health Transformation, and the Gingrich Group, a communications and consulting firm. He is an advisor to Freddie Mac.

    English translation for that last sentence: ‘we’re paying him big bucks to say nice things about us, and we’re obviously getting our money’s worth.’

    What a fucking whore.

  40. DRS says:

    We should keep one thing in mind: many if not most Republicans who will vote in the primaries genuinely, sincerely believe that it is impossible for Obama to win, that literally ANYONE can defeat him. If you believe that, then it’s easier to spend time boosting anti-Romneys like Cain and Gingrich. Until those primary voters change their minds about the inevitability of a Republican win, they’re going to waste time and energy like this.

  41. mantis says:

    I saw the interview and I didn’t think it was that hostile – on any other network it would have been reasonable.

    I agree. Fox interviews with Republicans usually don’t go that way.

    Romney whined because he didn’t get softballs.

    And they made a decision to tell everyone about his whining on their most watched show.

    Bret Baier doesn’t throw softballs and Romney couldn’t handle it.

    He does when he’s told to.

  42. G.A.Phillips says:

    With comment sections like this, I might as well go over to huffpoop…or go watch MSNBCoolaid……

  43. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:
    Yep. Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch.

    Which is better for Fox’s profits, Romney or Gingrich? Clearly Gingrich. Romney might conceivably win, which would undercut Fox’s rage-o-hol business model. Worse, he might moderate the GOP which is anathema to Fox’s business.

    Gingrich is Fox embodied: angry, mean, dishonest and resentful.

    The question is whether even Ailes can make Gingrich palatable.

  44. @mantis:

    They seem to believe that politics is won in the same way a schoolyard insult fight is won.

    And the thing about an insult fight is that usually the only people who think you won are your friends who already think you are clever and that the other person deserved the insults.

  45. Ron Beasley says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Stephen, you are truly a philosopher with an amazing grasp of the obvious. It’s also called cognitive dissonance which is the core of today’s Republican party.

  46. superedestroyer says:

    If the Republicans nominate Gingrich, the only questions will be whether Gingirch wins fewer states than Dole did in 1996 and whether Nancy Pelosi will return as Speaker of the House in 2013.

    My guess is that no matter who the Republicans nominate, they will not win any more states than the states that they won in 2008 and that the Democrats will be so close to regaining control of the U.S. House that they will be able to flip a couple of Republicans and regain control in a backroom deal.

    My guess is that most of the wonk/pundit class will wake up after the election in Nov. 2012 and write the obituary of the Republican Party and will openly begin to contemplate how the U.S. will function as a one-party-state.

  47. @G.A.Phillips:

    With comment sections like this, I might as well go over to huffpoop

    Awwww, you got me exactly what I wanted for Christmas.