Notice how every time Mitt Romney starts looking inevitable, something seems to happen that delays the coronation? Last night, it was Rick Santorum that happened. And what a strategic blunder by the Romney campaign.
None of these elections Tuesday were supposed to matter. No real delegates at stake, mostly beauty contests/caucuses. There was hardly any pre-election polling. Most of the media didn’t even bother to travel to Tuesday’s election states. The Romney folks didn’t even try, short of offering up some last minute criticisms about Santorum being a fan of ear marks, making him out to be some sort of secret free spender or something.
Note to Romney campaign team: if you’re not going to actively compete why even enter the race? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to say, “Well, what do you expect? He wasn’t on the ballot.”
The rest of the month is pretty sparse by way of primaries or caucuses. Rick Santorum now gets a few weeks of limelight and the Romney folks get a few weeks of doubt. Doubt created by coming in a distant 3rd in Minnesota, a state he had no problem with against John McCain four years ago. Doubt created by the prospect, having lost Iowa and Missouri, of a Republican Party that nominates a candidate with little appeal in the heartland. And he lost Colorado too- a huge, key swing state.
And Newt Gingrich is still around and likely to do pretty well in a lot of southern states. He’ll get his share of votes too on Super Tuesday next month. Let’s not forget Ron Paul who actually beat Romney last night in Minnesota.
On paper, Mitt Romney and his Super Pacs and organization look unbeatable. But how long will it take? How much more negative carpet bombing can the party endure as the candidates keep sniping at each other and continue to write Obama’s campaign ads for him?
The Romney strategy so far seems to be going nuclear on whoever else starts tip-toeing close to him. Five million bucks against Newt in Iowa. Nine million bucks against Newt in Florida. No doubt, the anti-Santorum attack ads are being produced as we speak.
Ninety percent of it so far has been negative advertising that does a good job eviscerating your opponent but also drives up your own negatives. And to avoid blunders, Romney has now stopped doing town hall meetings and, my guess is, very few media interviews in the days ahead; not exactly a formula for connecting with the voters.
Romney may well win a battle of attrition. Republicans will end up gathering around him, united in their virulent opposition to the Obama presidency. But he may also end up a wounded nominee going up against a well-funded incumbent with the backdrop of a suddenly improving economy- and that’s a daunting task.
It was so much more than the last debate before the all-important Florida primary next Tuesday. It was a day-long, incredibly well-choreographed attack from all corners of the Republican “establishment.” It looked like a political version of the Normandy invasion.
Mitt Romney closed the deal with his strongest debate performance to date- turning into the Alpha Male before our very eyes. Either Newt Gingrich was off his game or it turns out he really has only one trick- attack the media- but not much else.
Thursday, January 26, 2012 started out with the Drudge Report in full battle-cry: Get Newt. Headline after screaming headline bashed the former Speaker of the House. In the afternoon, former GOP Presidential candidate, Bob Dole issued a scathing letter that pretty much described Newt’s tenure as leader of the party in the 1980’s as an unmitigated disaster.
On the ground in Florida, pro-Romney supporters, including Congressmen, attended Gingrich rallies and made themselves available to reporters to issue instant counter charges to whatever Newt had just attacked on.
Earlier in the week, Gingrich complained about an NBC debate that enforced a no-cheering rule and he threatened to boycott any debates in which the audience was silenced. Last night, CNN had no such rules but Newt forgot to pack the crowd. Every Romney supporter in three states showed up.
And then brilliantly coached by a new debate prep team, Mitt Romney counter-attacked effectively all night long. He finally got comfortable with his wealth and unapologetically defended his financial success.
Not that other candidates did not have a good night. Rick Santorum was articulate and scored points against both Romney and Gingrich. Ron Paul constantly charmed the audience with his humble humor. But neither Santorum or Paul are seriously contesting Florida. They’ve got little advertising and very few troops in the field.
The coordinated assault on Gingrich was born of fear. Deep concern that the former Speaker just might ruin it all for the GOP this November. Not just lose the White House, but maybe both the House and Senate. South Carolina sounded an alarm that wakened the sleeping giant. This race will go on for a few more months, but the dye is cast. It’s pretty clear Newt Gingrich will not be allowed to win the Republican nomination.
I’ve been wrong plenty of times in my life—but on the matter of Newt Gingrich versus the Mainstream Media, I could see this one coming down the tracks a good 12 hours ahead of time.
Newt played it perfectly in last night’s debate. It was like watching a power hitter connect flush with a fastball and knock the thing over the third deck and out into the street.
CNN’s John King started the debate with the question about ABC News’ interview with Gingrich’s ex-wife Marianne in which she says Newt wanted an open marriage.
I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.
Newt, one of the best politicians ever at the art of outraged indignation, channeled everything he’d ever been angry at in his whole life. And he was just getting warmed up.
Every person in here knows personal pain. To take an ex-wife and make it, two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.
The CNN debate moderator reels from the blow to his political solar plexus and stammers about how it was ABC’s interview with the ex-wife, not CNN’s. Cue Newt’s undiscovered, new, even deeper depths of scorn and derision.
John! John! It was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with that.
Game. Set. Match. The rest of the debate would never again reach those heights of electric drama. Later on CNN, former advisor to the Presidents, David Gergen, said he thought it was one of the most memorable debate moments in American history.
CNN did a nice job after the debate dealing directly with the explosive first question to Gingrich. John King took full personal responsibility for asking the question and making it the first of the debate – didn’t pawn it off on his staff and didn’t apologize for it. He noted, as have other journalists, that Newt had been asked the very same thing earlier in the day and there was none of the theatrical anger. But King seemed to understand Newt is very good at the art of the media smack-down and essentially said- I’m a big boy, I can take it.
And Newt- truly the consummate actor (I don’t say it disparagingly- it’s a wonderful skill for a politician to have) told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in the post-debate spin room, that he thought John King did an excellent job as a moderator. It had the feel of hockey players who had just knocked each other’s teeth out- shaking hands and hugging after the game.
Over on Nightline, ABC aired the actual interview with Marianne Gingrich that contained what turned out to be the only semi- newsworthy moment- the stuff about Newt wanting an open marriage, which they had pre-released in the morning. This was no scoop. She had said the same thing last year in a print interview. But ABC went through all the “exclusive” motions.
But credit to ABC for a couple of things. They kind of downplayed it on the World News with Dianne Sawyer earlier in the evening, leading with good news about General Motors auto sales. Over at rival NBC, Brian Williams led with politics and they made a bigger deal of the Marianne interview than ABC did.
And then on the actual Nightline broadcast where the Brian Ross interview with Marianne Gingrich officially ran- they also included every second of Newt’s debate theatrics. It came off as a well-balanced broadcast.
I think he’s a much better politician than a lot of people give him credit for. He knows how the game is played. It’s no accident he answered the Marianne questions earlier in the day calmly and rationally. And certainly no accident that with a supportive crowd and millions watching- he would go calculatedly ballistic. And amazingly enough- how you can be calculated and still sincere at the same time- is truly a great political skill.
I’d be careful if I were Mitt Romney. This Georgia bull dog is not going down without a fight. He knows how to push the buttons and he’s got an impeccable sense of timing and grasp of the moment.
All presidential candidates are tested to the breaking point. Bill Clinton endured adultery accusations just days before the New Hampshire primary. Barack Obama, seemingly cruising after an Iowa victory four years ago, found himself losing to Hillary Clinton the very next week in New Hampshire. Both recovered.
Mitt Romney has had a nightmare of a week heading into Saturday’s South Carolina primary. At Monday’s debate, in addition to the little stuff, like confusing the big game he was hunting in Montana, he also gave one of the world’s longest and meandering and confused responses ever about the release of his tax returns. Maybe in April. If that’s the tradition. He was going to release them eventually sometime. It was quite the exhibit of red-faced tap-dancing. Meantime, Newt Gingrich played the conservative and vocal audience in the debate hall like a Stradivarius.
Then Romney hinted his tax return just might reveal he paid a fairly low 15% tax rate and then basically declared that his $350,000 in annual speaking fees was chump change. Which, of course, it is, compared to his estimated $25 million annual income from investments, but still enough to put him in the top 1% of American wage earners.
He then wakes up Thursday morning to find out he may actually have lost the Iowa caucus to Rick Santorum- trailing in the final but incomplete vote count officially released today. Not sure it’ll help Santorum- but it takes the luster off the Romney camp’s brag about being the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate in history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is no longer undefeated.
Meantime, recent polling finds a large erosion in Romney’s South Carolina and national leads. As I write, Rich Perry is getting out of the race and apparently headed toward a Gingrich endorsement.
The only bright spot for Romney is anticipating the possible damage that might be done tonight when ABC News releases an interview conducted with Newt’s ex-wife Marianne on Nightline. Careful what you wish for. A “lame-stream” media interview with a surging conservative candidate’s ex-wife 48 hours before the voting- seems to me to be the perfect storm for a voter backlash against the establishment media- and a potential boon for Newt Gingrich if he plays it right.
Mitt Romney is still formidable. He still has a lot of money and the best and deepest campaign organization. He still has a large lead in the Florida primary set for Tuesday, January 31st. History has shown that politicians in a seeming free fall can correct and conquer.
I’m not in the business of advising presidential candidates on tactics, but Jon Stewart offered Mitt some advice on the Daily Show last night that might be his ultimate answer to surviving this critical juncture in the campaign. That advice: stop pretending not to be rich. Embrace your wealth. Embrace your success story. Lose the pretenses about being middle class and once having worried about getting a “pink slip.” Nobody believes that stuff.
Americans strive to be rich no matter what their circumstance or background. They can respect that. What they pick up on fast is phoniness and a lack of authenticity. He ought to release his tax returns, tell people he did everything lawfully available to him to save on his tax bill, and proclaim himself rich and proud of it. “You know what?” the New Romney might say, “I earned everything I have. Maybe it’s time America had a President who knows how to create a little bit of wealth.”
Why, it’s so crazy, it just might work.
Polls are one thing; votes, even caucus votes, are another. The time is rapidly approaching that the first set of winners and losers in the Republican presidential race will be officially decided in Iowa.
The polls (Public Policy Polling) show Newt up by just a single point over Ron Paul with three weeks to go. For all the press about Newt Gingrich’s sudden inevitability, the up-to-the-minute trends as registered by notoriously unreliable polling in the state is that Newt is on the decline. A barrage of negative advertising against him primarily from the Ron Paul camp appears to be doing damage. Gingrich’s negatives are going up while his Tea Party support has started eroding quickly. Meantime, more and more evangelical leaders in the state are endorsing Michele Bachmann who is creeping up on Mitt Romney who is currently third.
How about this scenario for Iowa? Ron Paul edges out Newt Gingrich. Michelle Bachmann finishes third, ahead of Romney who comes in a disappointing 4th.
Now we come to the New Hampshire primary, where Mitt Romney with home field advantage, edges out Gingrich who is nearly caught by a surging Ron Paul. Totally plausible scenario that leaves today’s front-runner- Newt Gingrich- winless in the first two important political contests of the season.
Newt’s poll numbers in the next contests in South Carolina and Florida are strong. Romney is well ahead in Nevada. As the early contests conclude, we could very well have a three-way donnybrook verging on a 4-way traffic jam if Michelle Bachmann ends up the recipient of coalesced evangelical and Tea Party support.
This thing could go on awhile as the GOP has restructered its process to include fewer winner-take-all states. Even 4th place finishers get a few delegates in state after state. It even leaves open the possibility of the wet dream of all political junkies in America-the brokered convention.
None of the Republican candidates arrive in Tampa with a majority. All of them are bruised and battered after months of vicious attacks on each other. None of them have a lead on Obama in head-to-head general election polls. Movers and shakers in the G.O.P. establishment meet in a smoke-filled room in a non-smoking hotel to hammer out a solution.
To the shock of the nation and stunning the Obama campaign team- it all becomes a Florida nightmare for the Dems. The Tampa convention, by acclamation, suddenly nominates former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush who crazily enough, chooses Florida Senator Marco Rubio as his VP. Months of opposition research and ready-to-go TV ads go down the tubes as shocked Obama operatives read their internal polling. The Florida path is gone. Bush/Rubio is nailing 40% of the Hispanic vote. The men are gone. The Catholics are gone.
But come January of 2013, it’s Barack Obama taking his second oath of office, saved by the 3rd and 4th party campaigns of Ron Paul and Donald Trump who take just enough votes from Bush and Rubio to put Obama over the top. He reaches his electoral majority Wednesday morning, November 7th as Hawaii comes through at 6am, ET.
I know, I know. Reads like a bad novel. But in a campaign in which reality has already been stranger than fiction….
He is looking more and more unstoppable and the fear and trepidation on the part of establishment Republicans is palpable. But the more they attack the better he does.
Here’s the list of conservative pundits who have weighed in on what they see as the dangers of Newt Gingrich citing everything from ideological inconsistency to a lack of moral compass to psychopathic narcissism:
Mitt Romney supporter, New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, warned Thursday without naming names, that Republicans don’t want to nominate a Presidential candidate who might embarrass them.
Other Romney surrogates also piled on. Former New Hampshire Governor, John Sununu and former Missouri Senator Jim Talent tried to level Newt in a telephone conference call with reporters saying he is unreliable and not trustworthy.
Meantime, the Romney camp, while letting others do the heavy lifting on the personal and political attacks on Newt, released a biographical campaign ad highlighting Mitt’s steadiness in marriage. Hint, hint: Newt’s had two affairs and three marriages.
None of this matters to the Republican electorate according to poll after poll after poll that find Gingrich not just surging, but eviscerating Romney in every key primary or caucus state except New Hampshire (Romney’s backyard) and even that race is tightening considerably.
The more the attacks pile on, the more desperate Romney looks. And there’s a good reason for that. He’s desperate. And there are only four weeks before the first votes are counted. It’s become cliché, but Newt is the only thing that can stop Newt now.
This is an election cycle in which it appears Republican voters don’t give two hoots for pundits, commentators, media (liberal or conservative), office-holders, or following the orderly line of succession that has been the party’s previous history.
Gingrich is acting with great self confidence and taking all the criticism with a hearty laugh these days; like a man who knows every scathing column and every attack from current and former members of Congress are all individual badges of honor that can only help the cause.
It will have entertainment value. It will be a plus for the ION cable network few people have ever heard of. It’s a real plus for Newsmax, the conservative magazine and web site which is sponsoring the December 27th debate and is now getting lots and lots of media attention. It will, however, feature fewer candidates because at least so far, two of them are appalled at the prospect of Donald Trump moderating a presidential debate.
Here’s what’s odd about the whole thing. Donald Trump has indicated, somewhere down the road, he will be endorsing one of the candidates, making this debate a de facto audition before The Donald. And he’s also said that if he ends up not liking any of them he may run as an independent candidate himself, which would theoretically only hurt the Republican party in a general election. So what we have here in this Trump debate, basically, is a slightly longer version of the decision scenes at the end of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice shows.
The head of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, says he doesn’t have a dog in this fight. “It’s up to the candidates, I mean, I don’t make those decisions.”
Former Bush political advisor and unofficial spokesperson for the “establishment” wing of the GOP, Karl Rove, does have an opinion- a strong opinion expressed on Fox News’ morning show today:
So should a guy who’s going to endorse be the ‘impartial’ moderator of a debate? I think the Republican National chairman ought to step in and say we strongly discourage every candidate from appearing in a debate moderated by somebody who’s going to run for president…
This is no unimportant debate, by the way. Coming on December 27th, it’s the last debate before Iowa voters do their caucus thing on Tuesday, January 3rd.
Ron Paul’s people call the whole thing a circus:
“The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the Presidency and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity.
Former Utah Governor, Jon Huntsman will not participate either. Nor is he partaking in the ritual of candidates flying to Manhattan for an audience with Trump. He tells Fox News:
I’m not going to kiss his ring, and I’m not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy.
And what is the value of a Trump endorsement anyway? Here’s a National Review Online article about a September poll from Fox News that finds that getting the nod from The Donald is akin to getting a kiss from Mafia don just before you go swimming with the fishes:
While 10 percent of Republicans are more likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Trump, 18 percent are less likely to do so. (Seventy-one percent don’t care.) But if you poll all voters, 31 percent say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Trump while only 6 percent would be more likely.
You’d think GOP candidates would be staying far, far away from Trump. You’d think. But new Republican frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, heads to the Big Apple today for his Trump photo-op (previous visitors count Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney). And Newt is the first candidate to confirm participation in the Newsmax/Trump debate. As he puts it:
I would want to go just for the entertainment value.
It’s not like there are any important issues to discuss or contemplate. Let’s get back to some of the tried and true Donald Trump oldies but goodies like the President’s phony birth certificates and college grades, and how we should bomb Iran and steal Libya’s oil. After all, that’s what’s been lacking in the campaign so far: seriousness.