Friday, January 27, 2012
Newt-mania Runs Its Inevitable Course
As the Florida vote approaches on Tuesday, it seems a good time for another update on America's longest-running primetime reality show: the GOP Presidential Primary.
I spent a bit of time this week watching both Florida debates, then flipping around a few of the cable "news" networks afterwards. But rather than go into a cranky old man rant about the horror of what passes for journalism in 2012, here are a few quick impressions of what I saw in the debates, plus what I think we might see on Tuesday:
Mitt Romney -- Looked much, much better this week than he did in the previous debate appearances that I've seen. Romney added a new debate coach to his team, and the change seems to have paid great dividends for his debating style, which seemed much crisper and more pointed than it has prevous been. He also seemed much more at ease with the fact that he's incredibly wealthy. That may be an unplanned dividend for the Romney campaign from the release of his income tax information. He was trying to hard too obscure the fact that he only pays 13.9% of his vast income in federal taxes that it had to be a palpable relief to let the cat out of the bag.
This good week for Romney is the result of what getting thumped by Newt Gingrich will do for a candidate. It will make that candidate take a good long look in the mirror, then make genuine changes to his campaign. I doubt the Romney campaign would've changed anything if it wasn't for their South Carolina debacle, so this is an excellent example of how a competitive primary can create a stronger general-election candidate.
Romney looks set to pull out of his campaign tailspin, and head on to a major victory in Florida, where his advantages in money and organizational support already gave him a major edge. A disaster here might've mortally wounded the Romney campaign, but as long as he pulls out a Florida victory, he should be well positioned for smooth sailing the rest of the way.
P.S. Note to Mitt: if you think you're making any sense when you try to explain why Romneycare in Massachussets is any different than the federal Romneycare that Obama signed into law ... you're the only one who even claims to think that. And we all know that you're smart enough to know that there's no substantial difference, so it doesn't come across well at all.
Newt Gingrich -- Admittedly, Romney's job this week was pretty easy. All he had to do was point to the next podium and say, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you that this is Newt Gingrich."
The GOP's second flirtation with Newt seems to be ending as quickly as the first. This is a pretty well-documented pattern at this point. The rise comes when Newt gets down in the polls and comes out guns-a-blazin'. The Republican base loves the fight they see out of him and turn en masse to him as the anti-Romney. Then the GOP's elected officials and party leaders start working to head off what they see as an utter disaster looming in November if Gingrich is at the top of the ballot.
Worst of all for Gingrich's campaign, Newt plays into this by replacing the Angry, Bitter Newt that voters love with Pompous, Pedantic, Professorial Newt ... and that's the guy who was on display in these two debates. The only thing left in all America that Republicans and Democrats agree on is that everybody hates Pompous, Pedantic, Professorial Newt.
What will be interesting now will be to see if his sudden reversal of fortune leads Gingrich to restore the scorched-Earth campaigning style that is really his only chance to win this nomination. His SuperPAC is apparently launching $6 million in advertising over the next few days, so the scorched Earth campaign may be back. Whether it works after his drubbing in the debates is another matter.
P.S. Note to Newt: if you get housed by Mitt Romney in two consecutive debates with the nomination on the line, you may want to rethink the whole "I will crush Obama by engaging him in seven three-hour long Lincoln/Douglas debates" strategy. That lunar colony seems more likely.
Rick Santorum -- I continue to be astonished that Santorum didn't emerge as the anti-Romney after Iowa. I suspect that it speaks more to his lack of resources and experience with a national campaign than anything else.
Santorum did everything he needed to do to take over from Gingrich as the anti-Romney if this second Gingrich resurgence craters as badly as the first one did. Santorum's campaign doesn't plan to spend any money on TV ads in Florida, so as to make itself more financialy competitive in the caucuses in Maine and Nevada (Sat., Feb. 4) and the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota (Tue., Feb. 7). This strikes me as a very smart strategy. I also think that staying out of the Romney-Gingrich fracas will pay dividends for Santorum on Tuesday because he may be the only clean man standing after a weekend of epic mudslinging plays out.
If I had to make a prediction now -- and it's my blog, so I can make whatever darn predictions I want, darn it! -- it would be that Santorum looks pretty strong by Super Tuesday (11 primaries on March 6) and that he may be carrying Newt Gingrich's endorsement by then. If Gingrich drops out of the race by then, Santorum could give Romney a respectable run at the polls, though he won't have the organizational and resource strength to ultimately defeat Romney for the nomination.
Note to Rick: Eh, you did fine this week. You don't need my advice right now. You need $20 million in campaign donations.
Ron Paul -- Is soldiering on bravely, but obviously at a disadvantage in a large state with a closed primary, since his libertarian and Democratic supporters are shut out and his web-based campaigning tends to get shouted down by a flood of TV ads. After Florida I would bet that his organization concentrates on the various caucuses where their enthusiastic base has a better chance to make an impact in their final delegate count.
Note to Ron: Please stay in the race. The other three guys obviously need somebody willing to point out that their budget math doesn't add up.
My Bold Prediction for Florida (retail value: $0.02.):
Santorum: 24% (<--This would be the big surprise.)