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Calbuzz Panel: Newt Could Win, Then Crush the GOP

Jan25

With Mitt Romney demonstrating all the verve of an attack mouse, not to mention his tax returns, off-shore bank accounts and serial flip-flops, members of our Calbuzz Consultanate are reconsidering that in-the-bag nomination they predicted just a couple of weeks ago. But they almost unanimously agree with our assessment that Newt Gingrich might win the GOP nomination but not the White House.

It’s not just that Mitt comes across like an insincere, consultant-crafted hollow man, it’s that he seems unable to capture and express the visceral rage – justified or not – that Grinch finds so easy to personify with his attacks on media elites and Washington insiders, even though he is one himself.

What worries the Republicans and delights the Democrats on our Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything is that should Grinch win the nomination, he would crash the Grand Old Party.

Here’s how one conservative Republican on our panel put it, in what you might call emphatic terms:

Gingrich ran for president to sell more books and boost his speaking fees. He has done far better than expected because of Romney’s numerous weaknesses and the utter ridiculousness of the rest of the GOP field. Gingrich is a personally and professionally corrupt, self-indulgent, reckless, hypocritical, arrogant megalomaniac. Other than that he’s a great guy.

He is such an unpresidential blowhard that landslide losers Goldwater and McGovern look like George Washington and Abe Lincoln in comparison. Will Republican primary voters blow a key moment in the nation’s history and re-elect the clearly vulnerable Obama by nominating Gingrich? I don’t think so. But if I’m wrong, Obama will win big, Republicans will fail to win the Senate and lose the House.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Not all of the Republican consultants are ready to write Grinch off so easily. One even thinks Doughboy would take President Obama in debates (a prospect we find implausible).

Holy shit, never thought I’d see it.  The wheels came off Gingrich’s campaign early, his top advisers quit and the pundits (me included) filed him away under “the walking dead.” Now two powerful debate performances later, and he’s poised to win Florida.  Can he win the nomination? Certainly looks possible.  

What’s that mean for November? Hard to say, but he could be far more daunting than many think.  He’s smart, passionate about America and a ferocious campaigner.  My guess is that he’d eat Obama alive in the debates, and that his personal baggage would ultimately matter as little as Reverend Wright did last time around.  His biggest challenge would be convincing people he’s not nuts.  If he clears that hurdle, he could well be president. Of course, if Gingrich loses in Florida, he’ll be back among the walking dead, this time for good.

“Convincing people he’s not nuts” could indeed be a huge hurdle. Because, as Jacob Weisberg argued in Slate a while back, he just might be with his bouts of grandiosity, megalomania, irritability and impulsiveness. Of course, even that might not matter, if he keeps channeling his inner George Wallace, if Rick Santorum drops out and throws his support to him and if Romney continues to be . . . well . . . er . . . Romney.

This sent a thrill up the legs of some Democrats on our panel. To wit:

Newt can win the nomination because the base continues to reject Romney.  He cannot win the general election. Newt has almost 100% name ID and 60% give Newt negative ratings. Newt cannot change that reality.

Or this:

Newt’s uncanny ability to win over voters in debates is both impressive and unprecedented and helps neutralize Romney’s money and organizational advantages. So don’t count Newt out. And if Santorum drops out, his socially conservative supporters will likely go more to Newt than Romney, so another advantage for Newt. Bottom line: it’s great news for Obama and Democrats, regardless of the outcome, as every Republican candidate is getting more and more tarnished, especially with swing voters.

So here, for your reading pleasure, are the rest of the comments from our brilliant consultants.

Republicans:

– In a presidential primary, one can never say never, so Newt does have a chance. However, if he were to win the primary, Republicans would have no chance of defeating President Barack Obama and likely face serious problems in state elections due to a weak nominee and substandard campaign.  In hindsight, following the election, Gingrich will likely be remembered as the worst nominee ever put forward by the GOP.

– Yes, Newt Gingrich can win the Republican nomination. He is the only electable Republican candidate that is articulating the core feelings of the average GOP voter; a desire to keep Obama accountable and to unapologetically stand up for their principles. Republican voters know Newt has had his share of battle wounds from years in the public arena, but voters hope that will make him tougher, a better contender against the  political force that is Barack Obama.

Conservative voters remember Newt for his latest incarnation, the GOP’s ideas man, the man focused on creating “American Solutions.” Going into Florida we have a different ball game, and a unique political situation. In Florida, the economy is the number one issue but given the state’s stark diversity and 10 media markets ($$$), candidates must walk a fine line in hopes of attracting likely GOP voters statewide. Florida can be Newt’s to win, he has enough red meat to appeal to conservative working class voters in the Northern part of the state, connect with business types in the central region, attract Seniors and, given his more moderate views in immigration, he can possibly win the Hispanic Republican vote, which constitutes about 11% of the Republican Party. Florida is a representation of America, if you win Florida you can win nationally.

– Newt Gingrich will not be the nominee and here’s why: Newt Gingrich has that classic Achilles heel of politics — he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and believes his own spin, both of which will undermine his ability to stay focused and disciplined. He was both unfocused and undisciplined as Speaker, presiding over scandals and ethics violations. Many who served with him in the Congress can and will come forward with factual examples of his lack of leadership and discipline.  

– Sure Newt COULD win. I still don’t think he’s likely to, in the long run.  If he’s the nominee, then Obama, assuming he doesn’t get caught with a young boy or a Billy Goat, will almost certainly be re-elected.  I do not however believe it will cost the GOP the House majority or a potential Senate majority.  In fact, it may empower ticket splitting which many swing voters would prefer to do.

– Clearly, Republicans aren’t ready to commit to a frontrunner (and, who can blame them; it’s only January). That said, I don’t think Newt will play as well west of the Mississippi as he’s playing south of the Mason Dixon Line. He’s feeding a frustrated Republican electorate some really juicy red meat but if he makes it even close to the finish line, the vicious, scorched-earth rants will turn off independent voters – who are still likely to be the key to winning in November.

– Given this year and this (challenged) group of candidates, yes Newt could win the nomination. Not likely, but certainly possible. If Newt were to be the leading contender for the nomination, I believe many would view the nominee as a disaster that could cost GOP the House AND their prospects in the Senate…Thus, there might be an effort to recruit a late entry into the race. Also, Gingrich as nominee, fait accompli, could create more interest in an independent ticket via Americans Elect…weak Romney will have that effect as well.

– Yes he can, but the advantage is still with Romney. Romney has money and organization in caucus states.   Newt needs Santorum to drop out sooner rather than later. Who knows what it means for the GOP.  In this election, I am not sure the old rules apply.

– Yes he can if Romney continues to feed doubts about his electability and Newt avoids gaffes that raise those doubts about him. I doubt Newt can carry swing states like Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, New Mexico but he presents an even greater risk of cratering to a landslide loss and losing the House majority with erratic statements and ethics issues.

Democrats:

– Newt Gingrich cannot win the nomination, but we Democrats would love it if he did. A Gingrich nomination would be the height of hilarity and would secure Democratic control of the White House for the next four years.  

– Chris Christie was right when he said Newt has embarrassed the party and probably will again. The question is when? He could easily derail his own campaign again, and there isn’t time to recover any more. His odds of winning the nomination are less than 50/50, but Romney is so unlikeable and so unliked by his own party that it is entirely plausible for a majority of Republicans to choose a candidate who will die a principled death in the general election instead of watching Mitt go John Kerry all over the place. If Newt wins, he loses in a blowout and takes the Tea Party with him

– Gingrich isn’t going to win the GOP nomination but he can be strong enough to cripple GOP chances of winning in November.  Many are citing this as a classic heart vs head GOP election like Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976 and that ended with Jimmy Carter in the White House.

– This GOP primary is nuts! Not quite like the epic 2008 Dem primary btw Obama and Hillary, but it’s getting pretty darn close to that level of excitement and drama. Newt’s come-from-behind win over Romney in SC was very reminiscent of Hillary’s win in NH over Obama in the swiftness and impact of the comeback. Mitt’s inability to close the deal is very similar to Obama’s problem in sealing the deal in ’08. But, like Obama, Romney has more money and organization and is running against a very polarizing figure.

Ultimately, Romney should be able to pull this out. Map it out – Florida is next (where many voters already voted before the SC primary so Romney could lock in his advantage and his money and organization will likely carry him through), Nevada (lots of Mormons here – big advantage to Romney), Michigan (Romney won it last time and his dad served as governor), and Virginia (where Newt won’t even be on the ballot). So, like Obama did in ’08, Romney should have a very good February and that should give him a solid lead and regain momentum, even if he has to fight through April or May to win this.

Nevertheless, a week ago we were all saying “put a fork in this thing”, but now, not so fast, as Romney’s weaknesses have now been badly exposed . . . But to answer your key question, if Newt is the nominee, he will alienate too many swing voters to win and he will not be able to raise the money or put the organization together to compete effectively with Obama in multiple states at once. Furthermore, w/ only three presidential debates, he won’t have the regular opportunity on that platform to blast Obama. Though he is dangerous and would cause Obama, who has never shown a true killer instinct, real problems. Newt has been counted out at least two times now and he is like the Energizer bunny – he keeps going and going.

– Newt could win the nomination, but that reality is more a reflection on the weakness and phoniness of Mitt Romney than on the relative strengths of Gingrich. Romney just comes off as an inauthentic posturer and temporizer, as well as a soulless mechanical man, when GOP voters are looking for passion and strength. And Romney on the attack looks particularly uncomfortable and forced, so if he goes too far in trying to ravage Gingrich, it could exacerbate his underlying problem.

– I have to answer yes, something I wouldn’t have done a few days ago.  I think the primaries will now go on for quite a while and Newt will pick up steam in Florida.  It is more a question of if Romney can right his flailing campaign than can Newt win at this point. It is just incredible that Romney was caught so flat-footed on issues that he had to know would come up in the campaign. Newt’s ability to capitalize on them, his debates, and his rhetoric seem perfect for parts of Florida. But Romney should do well in many other states that remain. This is so much fun to watch! 

Since you could never have convinced me that at this point Newt would still be standing, it is hard to say what it means in November.  Logic seems to say that Obama wins if Newt is the candidate.  But, there is a large enough block of votes that does not want Obama to have a second term that it is just hard to predict this right now.

– Possible, but still not likely, as Romney has a hold on the party apparatus and will receive many delegates from the inside game.  If Gingrich were to get the nomination he would be a modern equivalent of Horace Greeley in 1872.

– The two biggest problems for Newt right now are his lack of organization in upcoming primary states and his master talent for self-destruction.  If he can manage to avoid the latter, he may just be able to overcome the former.  If Mitt doesn’t get his sea legs in Florida, he could be done.  And if Newt is the nominee, Barack Obama is the luckiest guy in politics since Gray Davis got Bill Simon as his opponent in his re-elect.

– Newt lacks the organization and the demeanor to win the Republican nomination.  South Carolina Republicans still support slavery and believe the world is flat.  If Obama were lucky enough to have Newt as his opponent it would be like Barry Goldwater all over again.  Come on Newt.

– Didn’t you hear the chant at the South Carolina victory party?  “Newt can win, Newt can win.”  Of course, they were only chanting about the nomination. Newt’s inflammatory rhetoric is working — he’s set the base on fire.  If that translates into dollars, and Newt can avoid self-destructing, he could win the nomination.

History is full of examples of presidential frontrunners having to vigorously defend their lead in the primary season. Think back to Carter v. Kennedy, Mondale v. Hart, Kerry v. Dean, Clinton v. Obama. Most frontrunners fight through a long primary season and survive, so it is too early to count Romney out. Newt is tossing aside caution and the rulebook, which says that you should never lose sight of the moderate swing voter while running in a primary.  Newt could check with Meg Whitman if he doesn’t get how dangerous his strategy is.  He’s recklessly running for the nomination without thinking about the end game and the moderate voters that make the difference.

The latest FOX poll shows that Newt’s approach is having an impact — his negative rating with the general electorate is 56 percent.  That means the American people are getting to know Newt, and they just don’t like him. That’s one of the reasons why Obama is even more certain to win reelection if the Republicans nominate Newt. But it sure would be fun to watch.


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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar OC Progressive says:

    What has been fascinating has been the collapse of Mitt’s favorability ratings, so he is almost as unpopular as Newt, with a simultaneous improvement for the President.

    From Steve Singiser at the great orange satan.

    Favorable/Unfavorable ratings, ABC/Washington Post poll, 1/24/12 (11/27/11 ratings in parentheses for Gingrich and Romney; 12/11/11 ratings in parentheses for Obama)

    President Barack Obama (D): 53/43 (48/49)
    Mitt Romney (R): 31/49 (38/38)
    Newt Gingrich (R): 29/51 (35/42)

    To put it in “net” terms, Barack Obama’s fav/unfav ratings have improved by a net of 11 points over the past six weeks or so, going from narrowly underwater (minus 1 percent) to modestly postive (plus 10 percent).

    In the same time period, Newt Gingrich has seen his fav/unfav ratings get markedly worse, by a net of 15 percent over the last eight weeks. He was already net negative back in November, but now he is even more so.

    But what is most notable is that Mitt Romney has very nearly caught up to Newt. He went from neutral in November to a position now where he is underwater by a troubling (for his campaign, at least) net negative of 18 percent.

    I don’t think anyone should think it an accident, either, that the president’s numbers have markedly rebounded during a time period where 90 percent of the attention has been focused on the Republican presidential contest. There is something to be said for looking better than the alternative.

    But Romney’s swoon is interesting. This is not just, as some have stated, a Gingrich boomlet predicated on a reassessment of Newt by Republican stalwarts. Part of Gingrich’s boom has been Mitt’s bust, so to speak.

    And the public reassessment of Mitt Romney has been across the board. As WaPo’s write up of the poll noted, earlier this month Mitt Romney was at 61/18 with his own party. He now stands at 58/32. With Independent voters, meanwhile, the collapse has been even more stark: Mitt was at 41/34 with Indies earlier in January. Today, according to the ABC/WaPo poll, he is at 23/51.

  2. avatar Hank Plante says:

    “Newt Gingrich is what a stupid person thinks a smart person sounds like.”
    – Paul Krugman

  3. avatar sactownjoey says:

    Interesting. Those fretting about down-ballot Republicans if Newt is at the top of the ticket should fear Mitt at the top just as much for lack of coattails.

    Although I can see the point that Romney is the electoral equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath for down-ballot candidates.

  4. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    It’s really hard to predict what effect super PACs will have. This will be the first presidential election since the SCOTUS imposed these Frankenstein monsters on us. A lot of GOP money could make up for a lot of bad GOP candidates. Didn’t work particularly well in Wisconsin or Ohio. But it still could.

  5. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    CalBuzz people are even worse than Drudge, Coulter, Dole etc. on poor Newt. What a fierce fighter he is!

    Romney, however, is so much more comfortable for me so “Go Mitt go! Beat that $5 trillion mad Obama deficit moster killing our country’s economic future!”

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