Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Could Candidate Gingrich actually come back from the dead? (Jonathan Chait)

The ongoing spectacle of the Republican nomination contest would be comical–if the prospect that one of these candidates might actually become President of the United States weren't so terrifying.

In polls of likely Republican primary voters, support for Mitt Romney has long been stuck at a maximum of about 25%, and it's clear that the one thing the other 75% or so agree on is that they strongly don't want Romney to be the Republican candidate. I suspect that a lot of those 25% (including, say, Chris Christie) support Romney only because they don't believe he actually means any of the things he's now saying to win the nomination. On the other hand, one of Romney's major weaknesses as a Republican primary candidate is precisely that many of the other 75% also don't believe anything he says. They think that under the surface–one can't say "deep down" because, rightly or wrongly, few people believe any longer that Romney has any deep core of beliefs or principles–Romney continues to be a crypto-"moderate" or, as hard-right Republicans say, a RINO (Republican in Name Only). We might have to hope that they're right.

So now, as Herman Cain's (ludicrous) candidacy seems to be going down in flames, who might emerge as the next Anyone-But-Romney front-runner? A recent PPP poll of Republican voters suggests that it might, incredibly enough, be Newt Gingrich:
[I]f Cain does eventually implode, Newt Gingrich is well positioned to become the new Republican front runner. He's running ahead of Romney in both Ohio and Mississippi, and tied with him in the Iowa district. Beyond that he is the second choice of Cain's supporters in all three of the places we polled over the weekend. [....]

Gingrich has had a massive improvement in his image over the last six months. [....] Newt is definitely rising and could really find himself in good shape if Cain's troubles continue.
What to make of this? As usual, Jonathan Chait nails it:
For a while now, the political press corps has been predicting the demise of Herman Cain, and further predicting that none other than Newt Gingrich would rise to take his place, just as Trump begat Bachmann, and Bachmann begat Perry, and Perry begat Cain. I dismissed the whole thing as too preposterous even for this Republican primary. Gingrich would appear to be disqualified on the hard-to-combine grounds of both being a left deviationist – here he is endorsing action to stop climate change with Nancy Pelosi; here he is savaging Paul Ryan’s budget – and of being such a right-wing loon the party couldn’t be mad enough to nominate him. (Here he is endorsing bizarre conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s father; many other examples could be found.) JW: Don't forget this one & this one.]

But now there is actual evidence that the Gingrich resurrection may be upon us, courtesy of a PPP poll [....]

I … I … I don’t even know what to say here. It has simply never occurred to me before today that there would be even the slightest chance of the Republican Party nominating Newt Gingrich – not even in the nineties, at the height of his powers, when such speculation was rampant. Parties don’t nominate people like that. You nominate a telegenic front man, not an erratic, overbearing, morally repulsive tub of goo like Gingrich.
That assessment of Gingrich is a bit too generous, but otherwise what Chait says makes good sense. I never took the prospect seriously either, even back in the mid-1990s, and certainly not in the past few years. But then what do I know?
Are there any actual Republican operatives, as opposed to hapless voting stiffs, who approve of this? Well, Former Bushie Jeffrey H. Anderson of the Weekly Standard is actually pining away for Newt [....]
Chait concludes:
It is probably time for me to stop making predictions of any kind about this race.
Probably wise. My very non-expert guess is that, in the end, Romney will hang on and come out ahead of Anyone-But-Romney for the Republican nomination, but anything could happen.

Hoping for the best (or less than the worst),
Jeff Weintraub