Thy Gingrich Come — and why Romney should go-for-broke in Iowa
And thus begins the much-predicted, long-awaited, and already dismissed initial forward lurch of Newtmentum:
Newt Gingrich has jumped to second place and Herman Cain has dropped to third among Republican voters’ preferences for which candidate should win the GOP presidential nomination, according to a new poll.
According to the McClatchy-Marist Poll, Mitt Romney leads the Republican pack with 23 percent. Gingrich is next with 19 percent and then Cain with 17 percent…
“Romney is still where he’s been. It’s fair to say this is a battle for the anybody-but-Romney candidate. Gingrich has now begun his 15 days of fame. Whether he is able to maintain that, as others have fallen, is the question. He may be the only one standing when this is all said and done,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College, told McClatchy.
The list of people who honestly think the former Speaker of the House — and, arguably, the father of the modern conservative movement — might yet win his Party’s nomination for the President is short (though, I should be note, it includes a former President who knows Newt better than most). But that doesn’t mean the reverberations of Gingrich’s campaign can’t be long and far-reaching.
A candidate can have a huge influence on a Presidential contest even without securing the nomination for themselves; John Edwards, for example, shifted the Democratic race of 2007-2008 markedly left-wards with his economic populism, forcing both Clinton and Obama to momentarily focus their attention away from foreign policy and experience and onto health care. And as Ed Kilgore notes, it’s not merely that such an influential but defeated candidacy could happen on the Republican side this year — it already has:
[C]andidacies can have serious consequences even if the candidate has no plausible path to the nomination. This year, for example, Michele Bachmann was probably never in a position to become the nominee. But it was clear from the beginning that she could, and eventually did, end Tim Pawlenty’s very serious candidacy by beating her fellow-Minnesotan in the Iowa GOP Straw Poll.
It strikes me, however, that whether the candidate is Gingrich, Perry, Cain or perhaps eventually even Santorum, the real protagonist in the story is always Romney. Doesn’t the fact that it’s now Gingrich’s turn says so much more about the base’s antipathy towards the ostensible front-runner than it does about Newt? If Newt weren’t in the race, I doubt the result would be Romney’s coronation. More likely, his 15 percent would be dispersed between Cain and Perry; or perhaps it would fall once again into Bachmann’s lap, offering the nation at least one more chance to regard the public health menace of sudden, late-onset, mental retardation with the solemnity it deserves.
Republican primary voters are a bit like high school students looking for whatever excuse they can find to procrastinatea little longer — always just a little longer — to avoid buckling down and studying for the damn SATs. The only thing that’ll put the whole charade to bed, the only thing that’ll actually get the kid to sit down and crack open the book, is the same thing that’ll eventually force the red state faithful to cast their lot with Mitt: time. Eventually, that SAT is this coming Saturday; eventually, it’s the morning of the Iowa caucus.
All the more reason for Romney to ignore those advisors of his who, still hurting from their decisive defeat at Mike Huckabee’s hands in Iowa nearly four years ago, tell the former Governor to skip Iowa and focus on New Hampshire. Their distrust of the evangelical, populist Iowa Republican electorate is well-founded. But the simple truth is that if Romney wins the caucus, the nomination fight will finally, mercifully, be over. It’ll at last be Saturday morning, the alarm announcing that it’s time to wake up and take that interminable but essential four hour test will finally ring.
The understandable but nevertheless immature desire to put it off just a little longer, just a little longer, will be squelched. Republicans will make their peace with what they deep-down always knew was inevitable.
If Mitt chickens-out, however, and hangs back, waiting for victory in New Hampshire, he’ll prove nothing to no one; and, besides, it’ll only mean that he’s now tied with whoever won Iowa. The media will get excited for what they’ll hope is a long, ugly, ideological campaign — and every day that the Not Mitt candidate remains alive, the more difficult it’ll be for anti-Romney voters to let go of the dream and throw in the towel. Remember how the Obama-Clinton struggle only became its ugliest and most bitter after it was clear that, barring something truly unforeseeable, Obama would win? Things will get all mucked-up with…feelings.
And I bet that the longer he’s gotta run the race and play the game; the longer the race becomes the daily constant in the news — an epic battle between divergent sects defending human shibboleths, infused with the ferocity that can only flow from the narcissism of small differences — the more we’ll see polls that look like this, as Republican candidate becomes either Mitt Romney or Not Mitt Romney in the voters’ minds: