Time For A Gingrich Boomlet?

Is Newt Gingrich on the verge of a rise in the polls?

Byron York reports from Iowa and sees signs of what seems to be most improbably, the possibility that Newt Gingrich could be the next candidate who rises in the polls to challenge Mitt Romney:

For days, there’s been talk of a Newt Gingrich boomlet in the Republican presidential race here in Iowa.  After Friday night’s Reagan Dinner at Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines, that Gingrich boomlet talk might turn into talk of a Gingrich boom.

Five candidates — Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul — addressed a crowd of about 1,000 GOP faithful at the state Republican party’s biggest fundraiser of the year.  In brief interviews after the dinner — the only question was which speaker did the best job — audience members were unanimous: Gingrich, Gingrich, Gingrich.

“It was Newt,” said Chad Kleppe of Waukee, Iowa.  “I think he’s the smartest one in the field.”

“Gingrich knocked it out of the park,” said Earlene Nordstrom of Fort Dodge, Iowa.

“Newt,” said Tim Heldt of Johnston.  “The energy in the room picked up.  It didn’t feel like a stump speech.”

“He is so good,” said Becky Ervin of Urbandale.  “I want to see a debate between him and Obama.”

“I would have to say Newt Gingrich might have convinced me to caucus for him,” said Eric Johansen of Grimes.  “I’ve been undecided up to this point.”

In a dozen interviews, the score was Gingrich 12, the rest of the field 0.  That doesn’t mean everyone will vote for Gingrich at the January 3 Iowa caucuses — voters here reserve the right to hold off on making a final decision until the night of the voting — but they certainly walked away impressed with the former House speaker.

It seems completely unlikely, for so many reasons. Within a week after he had entered the Presidential race, Gingrich had the ire of conservatives directed against him when he criticized Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan despite the fact that he had been praising the plan only two weeks previously.  Then, Gingrich came out with yet another statement saying he actually supported a plan he had just called “right wing social engineering” and when the DNC featured Gingrich’s critical comments in an ad, he said that any ad that quotes what he said about the Ryan Plan is a lie. Before May was even over, we learned that Gingrich and his wife had maintained an extraordinarily large line of credit at Tiffany & Co., and while the story seemed irrelevant it became the butt of jokes and was just more bad news for Gingrich. Then his entire campaign staff and his fundraising team quit in June, and we learned that he was basically operating the campaign out of the trunk of his car. When the second quarter fundraising reports came in, we learned that Gingrich had raised less money than Herman Cain, and was in debt. While other candidates were spending the spring and summer campaigning, Gingrich was taking vacations on a Greek cruise, and rounding up support for the not-so-crucial Hawaiian primary. The Gingrich campaign looked for all the world like what many suspect it still is, an opportunity for Newt to raises his speaking fees and sell books.

In addition to this there’s the fact that, well, this is Newt Gingrich we’re talking about. As I’ve noted in several Twittter conversations I’ve had on this idea of a Newt boomlet, this is a guy who has more baggage than Imelda Marcos had shoes. There are his marriages, of course, but also his tenure as Speaker, the 1995-96 government shutdowns, the Clinton impeachment and the circumstances that led to Gingrich’s own resignation has Speaker, and the hundreds if not thousands of things that Gingrich has written and said since leaving Congress which are inevitably going to be dredged up again if he ever did become a serious contender in the race for the nomination. Anyone remember when he sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi to do a Global Warming television advertisement? On top of all that, Gingrich hardly seems like the kind of candidate that would be able to garner the support of enough independents to win a General Election. In short, the logical conclusion seems to be that Gingrich on the Republican ticket in 2012, in either position, would be political poison.

And yet, Gingrich seems to be succeeding despite all the odds against him. In most recent national polls, he sits in third place behind Romney and Cain and although his numbers are usually comparable to Ron Paul’s, it’s arguably the case that Gingrich has a chance of rising above that number that Paul would never have. In part, it’s due to the fact that other conservatives like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have faltered while others, like Rick Santorum, have failed to rise at all. Gingrich, helped in part by his name recognition, has benefited from the fact that the population of viable not-Romney’s seems to be dying off quickly, and that the other not-Romney is a guy with no political experience whatsoever. Additionally, Gingrich has gotten generally positive marks from everyone for nearly all of his debate appearances. This isn’t surprising. Newt Gingrich has been playing the political game since the 1980s and debating in the form we do it now is just another form of giving a speech from the House floor. Say whatever you will about Gingrich, and there’s much to say, but he’s intelligent and he knows how to make a good argument, voters seem to be responding to this. Additionally, York notes, he’s giving the voters a positive message that the other candidates seem to be missing:

Gingrich won the night in large part by doing one simple thing: He lavished praise on his fellow candidates.  Perry has been “my mentor on the 10th Amendment,” Gingrich said.  Bachmann deserves credit for efforts to stop the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill.  Rick Santorum has worked to “rouse America to understand the challenge of radical Islam.” Ron Paul has been “consistently correct” about a sound dollar.  Gingrich did not offer praise for the two frontrunners, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, who skipped tonight’s dinner.  But had they attended, Gingrich said, “I would have said nice things about them, too.”

“I am here with very fine competitors, but no opponents,” Gingrich concluded.  “We only have one opponent, and that’s Barack Obama.”

I’m still skeptical of the idea that Gingrich could become a viable competitor to Romney in the primaries. The negatives I noted above are still there, and voters don’t forget those sorts of things. Additionally, Gingrich has largely been running a guerrilla campaign on a shoestring budget, because that’s all he can afford to do at this point.  That’s not enough to win primaries. Nonetheless, a surprise showing in a state like Iowa could be all that’s needed to propel him into the spotlight and then, who knows what could happen. It’s unlikely, but there have been a lot of unlikely things that have already happened in this race. So, stay tuned.

Incidentally, tonight, Gingrich and Herman Cain will be participating in what Gingrich is referring to a “Lincoln/Douglas style debate” in Iowa, it will be broadcast on C-Span and will likely be available for viewing in their video archive afterwards. If nothing else, it should be an interesting spectacle.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. I am thinking not.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    That would certainly cheer up the folks in the White House.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, please, please, please let it be.

  4. anjin-san says:

    As the GOP lunches from one sideshow freak to another…

  5. PJ says:

    Romney can’t be happy if Republican voters, instead of picking him after they have gone through every candidate, start to reexamining the rejects.

    Newt did, within the margin of error, actually lead in a poll in July 2010, and was in the margin of error to lead a couple more.

  6. sam says:

    Reminds me of an old, old movie, The Long Ships.

    Sidney Poitier as Arab prince supervising executions. Machine of execution is this looooooong, curved, sword-looking slide thingy. The executee is pushed headfirst down the thingy and is cut in half, from stem to stern as it were. Some poor slob is shoved down to illustrate. Poitier to Richard Widmark, “You’re next, Viking.”

  7. anjin-san says:

    Sidney Poitier

    I have “To Sir With Love” on in the background right now – timeless stuff.

  8. sam says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Way off topic (well, maybe not). Would you have ever, ever conceived of this?


  9. Jeremy says:

    Glurgh. The guy’s a Romney clone–no real positions, just swings with the wind. I do feel Romney might win the general against Obama because Obama is really unpopular, but I don’t feel the same about Newt. He’s even more unpopular. People would vote for Obama because, hey, at least he didn’t shut down the government because he was seated at the back of a plane.

  10. Gustopher says:

    Wow. The Republicans really do not want Romney.

    I can’t say that I blame them (would you buy a used car from that man? If not, why would you even consider him for the presidency?), but Newt?

    I expect this to be Ron Paul’s best year ever.

  11. BleevK says:

    Like in any freakshow, they’re keeping the real monster for the end of the show.

  12. Cheryl Jones says:

    There are things about Romney not being talked about. Go to my site and click on the link “The White Hats Reports” or just google that site and read the 31 reports, several of which mention Romney. We don’t need any more puppets controlled from behind the scenes.

    I’m for Newt Gingrich. First of all, he has brains which are very much evidently missing in most of D.C.

    He will get rid of bad judges following Jeffersonian principles. A good thing.

    He blasted Bernanke at the debate and understands the damage of the Fed. A good thing.

    He has breadth, depth, and the ability to bring people together. A good thing.

    He has the 21st Century Contract with America at his site. A good thing.

  13. anjin-san says:

    He has breadth, depth, and the ability to bring people together. A good thing.

    I hope this is satire. Remember how old fashioned refrigerators had that little pan an the bottom that you would pull out every once and a while to clean? The one that would be full of brownish/green ooze? That’s Newt.

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    @Cheryl Jones: What universe are you living in?

    First of all, he has brains which are very much evidently missing in most of D.C.

    If having brains means using big words while spouting nonsense you’re right.

    He will get rid of bad judges following Jeffersonian principles.

    I’m not sure what that means but it sounds un American.

    He blasted Bernanke at the debate and understands the damage of the Fed.

    Blasting Bernanke is a bi-partisan activity – I’m a borderline Socialist and I blast Bernanke.

    He has breadth, depth, and the ability to bring people together.

    He has no friends on the left or the right.
    The guy is nothing but a self promoting snake oil salesman.

  15. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    In Korea, Dunkin’ Donuts sells tomato, garlic, and parmesan cheese donuts (altogether in one donut, not three different kinds). Even those are more paletable than Gingrich flavored “not Romney.”

    Some time back, a friend of mine characterized American elections as a set of choices where “each doofus is more hapless than the last.” It seems to fit the contest for finding “anyone but Romney.” We may get a third party out of this yet.

  16. Hey Norm says:

    First off…Byron York is a partisan hack.
    Neglecting that…
    The idea of a Cain/Gingrich ticket came up a couple times during the so called debate née lovefest last night. I’d love to see that. The Obama campaign staff probably has fantasies about that.

  17. MBunge says:

    I think people are missing the point demonstrated so clearly during this GOP primary season. Politics is largely a comparative business and it’s not how terrible Newt looks, it’s how he looks next to people like Cain, Perry and Romney. When push comes to shove and Republicans have to settle on a not-Romney, who better than Gingrich? And if you’re a conservative of any stripe and the choice is Gingrich or Romney, who the hell would pick Romney?


  18. grumpy realist says:

    I wonder what percentage of the people they asked who were pro-Gingrich were men? My guess is 100%.

    For women. Gingrich epitomizes every cheatin’ lyin’ husband who throws over his wife for a blonde bimbo, then goes into cahoots with the lawyer to conceal all of his assets, sells the house out from under her, and then kicks her out into the snow when the divorce is final.

  19. mannning says:

    If we stack Obama against Gingrich in public service, in brains, in conformance with the Constitution, and in devotion to the ideals of American government, the score would be Obama 31, Gingrich 92.

    At the very least, Gingrich is a workable port in a storm, and his sins will be forgiven relative to the only other option at election time.

  20. Hey Norm says:

    And the East German judge weighs in:

    “…If we stack Obama against Gingrich in public service, in brains, in conformance with the Constitution, and in devotion to the ideals of American government, the score would be Obama 31, Gingrich 92…”


  21. kenny says:

    Wake up Tea Party Newt is the man to beat Obama, hes the answer for all Americans..

    Go Newt..