Things certainly can change in a hurry. Going into the South Carolina primary, it looked like Mitt Romney had the Republican nomination wrapped up. He appeared to be heading three for three of the first contests and polls had him in the lead in the next few races. But then, it turned out that Rick Santorum actually won Iowa and Newt Gingrich pulled a big upset in South Carolina. Now Romney’s 20 point lead in Florida has evaporated and Micah Cohen at Five Thirty Eight at the New York Times points out that most of the Republican party officials are holding on to their endorsements much longer than usual. What happened? Did Newt Gingrich suddenly become a better candidate? Did Mitt do something incredibly dumb?
The answer to those questions is ‘not really’. Newt is still the same combative bomb thrower he has always been. The Republican party doesn’t even like him much. It would not be surprising if Gingrich managed to collect the required number of delegates that the RNC refused to nominate him anyway. That conversation has been popping up lately in the media as more than a few pundits are predicting that there could be what’s known as a brokered or open convention where some other candidate could be nominated. So pressure could be put on a Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush to get in the race late. It’s entirely possible for no one to be able to get the required number of delegates since this has essentially been a three way race for some time now (Romney, Not-Romney, and Ron Paul).
Romney has never been all that loved by Republicans. He has consistently polled at around 25 to 30%. But after a few lackluster debates and the release of the half hour Bain Capital infomercial, Romney’s numbers are starting to slip and Gingrich’s are starting to rise. The release of Romney’s 2010 tax return today showing Mitt paid only a 13.4% tax rate; half that of most Americans, isn’t going to help his image either. It’s not a big surprise that Romney didn’t win South Carolina (he didn’t fare well there in 2008 coming in fourth behind even Fred Thompson) but what is unusual is the visceral reaction of the support behind Gingrich. There’s a bit of a rage factor that isn’t so much support for Gingrich as it is resentment towards President Obama. Newt has picked up on it and is wantonly pouring gasoline on that flame.
Professor Howard Schweber of the University of Wisconsin calls the phenomenon the politics of resentment. So while say, George W. Bush shared the values of evangelical voters, Newt Gingrich shares their resentments. This would explain why Gingrich seems to be getting a pass on his questionable moral and professional decisions. Simultaneously these same voters are inventing a completely false caricature of Obama that resembles Slobodan Milosevic, Idi Amin, and Adolph Hitler all rolled into one (with a little Karl Marx thrown in for the socialism angle).
Newt plays the victim quite well. Only in Republican circles can someone receive a standing ovation for firing back at a question on his past infidelities. He is also a reasonable debater and can certainly play defense and offense. Former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan has referred to Newt as an ‘angry little attack muffin’.
Romney has the money to ride the whole way to June but Gingrich just received another $5 million cash infusion from the wife of the casino mogul who dumped the first $5 million into his campaign. Rick Santorum probably cannot hold out much longer and his supporters will likely fall in line behind Gingrich (we’ll run a hypothetical on this scenario in a couple of days). So is Mitt Romney’s inevitability cruise over? At this point, anything is possible.
- Durbin: Obama Would Do Well Running Against Gingrich (chicago.cbslocal.com)
- Can Newt Gingrich Beat Barack Obama? (usnews.com)
- Some Signs G.O.P. Establishment’s Backing of Romney Is Tenuous (Five Thirty Eight @ New York Times)
- Newt Gingrich and the Politics of Resentment (Huffington Post)
- Republican Convention Has 50/50 Chance of Being Open: Former RNC Chair (Huffington Post)
- Gingrich Surges to the Lead in Florida (elections.firedoglake.com)
- Romney and Gingrich Switch Roles At Debate (usnews.com)