Who Wears the Mitts In This Family?

Another day, another set of encouraging poll results for Newt, and discouraging ones for Mitt. This time an automated Rasmussen poll of likely Republican voters nationwide has Newt handily beating the rest of the field with 38% compared to Mitt’s second-place 17%.  This is Newt’s largest lead in any nationwide survey so far. (I’m not going to start parsing the internals of the various polls this early in the process – you’ll get plenty of that later on.)  And it simply adds to his polling momentum – the RealClear Politics composite polling average shows Newt’s survey support (he is in green) heading north, while Mitt (purple) and the Herminator (red) go South.

 As I noted in an earlier post, although I’ve been touting Newt’s debate-based surge for some time now, the media-driven conventional wisdom has been slow to adjust to events on the ground.  Only now are they showing signs that they recognize that Newt’s polling arc is not likely to follow the same pattern as that exhibited by previous “Not Mitt” candidates.  In their defense, however, the speed of ascent, and his evident staying power, took even the Newtster by surprise.  In an hour long interview – more like an extended “infomercial” – with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity before an appreciative South Carolina audience last night, Gingrich admitted that his intended strategy had been to stay in the race until South Carolina, where he then hoped to make his move with a strong showing.  Instead, he is now the undisputed frontrunner.

Which raises the question: did he peak too soon?  And what does Mitt intend to do about it?  I suggested yesterday that it was time for Mitt to put up his, er, dukes and start directly targeting Newt.  Media reports from today suggest that Mitt and his advisers are finally recognizing  the difficulty of running a classic front-runner’s race when by all indications you are no longer the front runner.  Indeed, as Newt put it last night, the race has turned quickly from Mitt versus non-Mitt to Newt vs. non-Newt – with Mitt in real danger of not being the non-Newt. But, how to respond? Evidently Mitt and his Merry Mittsters are debating how to take on Gingrich directly without mussing Mitt’s hair.

While Mitt dithers, Ron Paul isn’t waiting, as the following campaign ad (hat tip to Peter) indicates (cue dramatic music!):

Despite the annoying music, the Paul video succinctly spells out the major talking points that will undoubtedly be at the heart of any future attacks on Gingrich’s record:  his work for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, his more moderate stance on many issues, his ad with Pelosi recognizing global warming (a “mistake” Gingrich openly confessed last night), his support of health care mandates, his criticism of the Ryan plan as “right wing social engineering” and, of course, his messy personal life.

To this point, Newt seems to have developed a set of talking points designed to respond to these criticisms. It remains to be seen whether those talking points will be enough to blunt the impact of these attacks which are sure to escalate in intensity in the next few weeks.  As of now, Mitt still seems reluctant to muss his hair with direct attacks on Newt, so he may rely on surrogates like Chris Christie to carry his dirty water for him, and hope that the other Republican hopefuls will follow Paul’s lead and launch their own broadside at Newt’s very broad side.  In the meantime, I expect to see lots of Romney ads featuring his wife and family (no messy personal life there!) and constant references to his private sector experience.  The problem is that this may not be enough to overcome the persistent skepticism among Republican voters regarding Romney’s own inconsistencies – a skepticism that dates back at least four years and which seems to have set the Mittster’s ceiling of support at about 25% of likely Republican voters.

Meanwhile, how will Gingrich adjust to front-runner status?  Critics are waiting for him to implode – to engage in the self-centered, petty behavior that contributed to his downfall as House Speaker.  To this point, however, we’ve seen a new, wiser, more mature Newt, one who while still showing flashes of smugness and intellectual condescension, has also managed to come across as mellower and more introspective.  Already he has instructed his staff  to avoid critiquing Romney, continuing his steady adherence to Reagan’s 11th commandment.  Meanwhile, he may have his sights set on a bigger target: a poll released today shows that for the first time Newt has pulled even with the President in a national survey of likely voters.

So, which is it?  Will Newt solidify his lead in the next month in preparation for the Iowa caucuses?  Or is he destined to follow the downward trajectory experienced by the other non-Mitt’s who temporarily shot to the top of the pack.  Are we seeing a new Newt, or will he relapse into the bombastic bomb-thrower of yore, as critics contend (and hope!)

I know what Newt thinks – he told ABC’s Jake Tapper this afternoon that  “I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”

Is Newt right?  Are we looking at a Gingrich-Obama slugfest this fall? If not, then who will be the Republican nominee?  It’s time to stake out a claim.  At stake: one “It’s the Fundamentals, Stupid” t-shirt to the person who can tell me who will win the Republican nomination. To make it more interesting, you must tell me the order in which the 8 Republican candidates will finish, based on the candidate’s delegate totals when the race finishes or the candidate drops out.

Ready?

Game on.

16 comments

  1. Well, I think that Gingrich has a real shot but I’m not convinced yet, so I think that I’ll register this bet, knowing full well that I’ll probably be proven wrong:

    1) Romney
    2) Gingrich
    3) Paul
    4) Huntsman
    5) Perry
    6) Bachmann
    7) Santorum
    8) Cain

    I think that Cain and possibly the man with the Google problem will drop out before the voting starts, and I think that a combination of Newt’s mouth, some real scrutiny, and the early primaries (NH, NV, and MI all will stay Glove-friendly) will keep Romney in the lead. Plus, Gingrich doesn’t have much in the way of a ground game in place. I’m not convinced that he’ll be able to effectively convert his poll support into votes the way that uber-polished Romneyworld will. Furthermore, I think Huntsman will pick up some support after a surprisingly strong NH showing, and wouldn’t be shocked if Perry drops out as well. It’ll be interesting to see where Paul’s delegate count ends up.

  2. Ironically Newt is hard to attack *because* of his crooked reputation.

    The Republicans who support him never thought he was a saint. These new accusations aren’t dramatic because it’s not surprising.

    Also doubt Mittens, unlike Paul, can call Newt a flip flopper with a straight face.

    And if Mittens pulls through, do we think a guy who can barely beat Gingrich is really going to handle the Obama machine?

    On paper Mittens looks like the perfect candidate for this economy. In reality he’s not a great campaigner.

  3. 1) Romney
    2) Gingrich
    3) Paul
    4) Huntsman
    5) Perry
    6) Santorum
    7) Bachmann
    8) Cain

    The digital age is calling the necessity of an effective ground-game into question, but until I’m proven wrong I refuse to believe someone who is just now establishing a presence in the three early states — let alone elsewhere nationally — can win the nomination. In my opinion Gingrich would have to sweep Iowa, NH, and SC to pick-up the kind of momentum and fundraising necessary to compete with the Romney machine on Super-Tuesday and beyond. While I think Iowa and SC are in play (although I’m concerned about the lack of voter-identification in Iowa) my gut says NH serves as a firewall. To me the more interesting question is Iowa. Traditional models are blown out of the water because of Romney trying to avoid looking like he’s playing (but he actually is) and Gingrich having only one Iowa office, let alone the precinct captains etc. generally credited with playing a big role in winning past caucuses. I think there’s a better chance than most realize that Paul could sneak into the void with a strong showing.

  4. Ok, I’ll give this a shot…

    1) Mitt Romney
    2) Newt Gingrich
    3) Jon Huntsman
    4) Rick Perry
    5) Ron Paul
    6) Michelle Bachmann
    7) Rick Santorum
    8) Herman Cain

    I think Cain, Santorum, and Bachmann will be gone after Iowa, if not before. Romney and Gingrich finish 1-2 in New Hampshire with Perry, Paul, and Huntsman finishing in a virtual 3rd place tie allowing them to continue. Gingrich wins South Carolina but not Florida. The next two, Nevada and Arizona, play to Romney and Huntsman. Super Tuesday brings a few wins for Perry, a few for Gingrich, and a few for Romney, bringing an end to Huntsman’s campaign. He’ll have enough delegates to demand a good speaking slot for the convention. Romney is close to locking it up by April 1 and strikes a deal with Huntsman for his delegates, agrees to take Christie as VP and it is all over. LOL.

  5. I’m still trying to figure out what the happy smile for Cain that is in all of your predictions signifies! Does the computer program know something about his candidacy that we don’t?

  6. Well, I hope it provides some solace to Cain, who so far has come in eighth, and last, in everyone’s projections. Keep on smiling Herman!

  7. I like Rob’s scenario, and Cristie as the VP is interesting and makes sense. But there would be some pissed off Tea Partiers who dislike both so it would be interesting to see the fallout from a VP other than a Tea party darling.

    I could also see Newt falling aside like the other flavors of the month. He has a lot of baggage that could make his upturn shorterm.

  8. These are, so far, rather consistent rankings from our experts. If there’s a surprise, its how bullish you all are regarding Huntsman’s prospects. You sound very much like my academic colleagues, who are convinced the Republican voters will come to their senses and back this guy.

  9. I’ll play devil’s advocate:

    1) Gingrich
    2) Romney
    3) Paul
    4) Perry
    5) Huntsman
    6) Bachmann
    7) Santorum
    8) Cain (keep on smiling, right out of the race)

    Romney has been able to wave goodbye as the other anti-Romney’s fizzled because they didn’t know the issues, but Gingrich doesn’t have that liability. Neither candidate (Romney or Gingrich) is the kind of certain conservative that Republican primary voters would prefer, but Gingrich doesn’t have Romney’s authenticity problem. I’d like to rank Huntsman higher, but I just don’t see where he picks up that many votes: the Mormons out west who might pick him over Romney or a more conservative candidate aren’t Republican primary voters, they’re Democrats. I think Perry will hang in long enough to pick up some southern votes as the anti-Gingrich and Ron Paul will have his strongest run yet, garnering some surprise second and third place finishes.

    Then Paul and Huntsman can make a third-party big (Libertarian?) promoting deregulation, the end of DOMA, and an immediate return of all U.S. servicemen stationed abroad … Ok, now I’m just making things up.

  10. Ok. I’m convinced on the polling arc question and am drinking the coolaid Matt. One question I have is about the time lag in polling data (i.e., Cain still shows up with 10% recently). It seems like it has taken people almost two weeks to realize Gingrich was solidly the frontrunner in the race. With only a few weeks left it seems that and the GOP does not have enough time to seriously evaluate his general election electability (i.e., he will be their weakest general election candidate since Dewey). The conservative clearly don’t like Rommney, so Gingrich is their only feasible option unless another conservative jumps in to save the day.

    Irrespective of the nominee, I think the same basic narrative holds: this will be the year the GOP establishment lost control party and the populists have their “Mondale” moment in nominating Dewey,..no McGovern,… no Grinch?

    Second narrative: lamestream media and pudits totally miss the importance of the most crucial rule change of all-a conversion to PR distribution of delegates-which allows Gingrich to win the nomination in carrying pluralities in the south and conservative states, and Paul to run a strong third place insurgency campaign.

    Picks (predicted percentage of delegates):

    1. Grinch (35%)
    2. Romney (25%)
    3. Paul (18%)
    4. Huntsman (7%)
    5. Bachman (5%)
    6. Perry (withdrawn)
    7. Santorum (withdrawn)
    8. Cain (withdraws this weekend)

    Chicago Boys salivate at the prospect of a Gingrich matchup and GOP misses golden opportunity to steal one from incumbent….

  11. Orion -

    Wow – actual percentages too! The rest of you better step up your game… .

    I think you made a great point re: Paul – his committed band of followers is likely to give him some delegates under the proportional delegate allocation rule the Republicans have adopted, but keep in mind that it is in place only for the early primaries. If this fight goes the distance, Paul may lose delegates, even if he maintains support, in the latter contests.

    Finally, I dislike having my name in any sentence that includes the phrase “drinking the koolaid.” Couldn’t you just say you were persuaded by the wisdom of my argument?

  12. I can’t speak for everyone else, but my being “bullish” on Huntsman comes less from any thought that GOP primary voters will come to their senses, and more from the fact that he’s the last Romney alternative left if Gingrich gets derailed. Already the George Will’s of the world are starting to take a closer look at him, and if Gingrich stumbles I expect a flurry of columns and on-air editorials explaining the depth of his conservative credentials. That being said, I still think the saddest commentary on American politics is someone who is that smart and experienced — not to mention who carries a far more conservative record than Gingrich or Romney — can barely poll outside the margin of error simply because he refuses to engage in divisive politics.

  13. Peter – I think that’s Huntsman’s calculation as well – that Gingrich is bound to stumble. The question is – why does Huntsman become the anti-Mitt when in many respects he is Mitt-lite? At this point I’m just not sure the Tea Party faction will ever buy into a Huntsman candidacy. But there are signs that he’s gaining a bit of support in New Hampshire. However, have you seen this guy up close? He doesn’t seem to excite people.

  14. Professor,

    Couldn’t agree more! I don’t see a way Huntsman can beat Romney — he will forever be “Mitt-lite” as you put it. But, if Gingrich stumbles I do think some support will turn to Huntsman. Not enough to give him a snowballs chance of winning the nomination, but enough that I felt comfortable ranking him higher than his current polling.

    This race is like “Survivor,” and I don’t think Huntsman can win, but I also don’t see him being voted off the island a la Cain or Perry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>