Tag Archives: Gingrich

The Post-Mortem on Gingrich: Why The Fat Man Sang

It has been a little more than a month since Newt Gingrich formally ended his improbable and wildly entertaining bid for the Republican nomination.   The Newtster, whose campaign had been on life support for several weeks, finally bowed to reality shortly after Mitt Romney crushed him in the winner-take-all Delaware primary on April 24, one of several victories for the Mittster that same night that made it clear Newt had used up all of his nine political lives, and then some.   A subdued Newt formally gave up the ghost a week later, but not before reiterating his belief that his grandchildren would likely be able to visit a moon colony in their lifetime.  The moon colony, of course, had long become the symbol of Newt’s candidacy: big on ideas, short on practicality.   But that caricature both oversimplifies and underestimates Newt’s impact on this race.  For, despite a rather inauspicious start that had the media declaring his candidacy over before it began, Newt parlayed a series a scintillating debate performances (who can forget Newt taking on John King over media coverage of his first wife’s allegations that Newt sought an open marriage?) and the support of Sugar Daddy Sheldon Adelson into what is essentially a distant third-place finish, as measured by popular votes, in the Republican nomination. In so doing, Newt outperformed a number of other candidates, including Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty.

Here’s Newt at his media bashing best, taking on CNN’s King regarding the Newt’s First Wife’s Club:

This was probably the high point of Newt’s campaign. In a reminder that those who live by the sword often die by it, Newt’s longshot campaign probably ended shortly after with his poor debate performance prior to the Florida primary, when Mitt’s superior opposition research gave him the material to flummox the Newtster during an exchange over investment portfolios.  Of course, Newt was already facing a huge financial deficit as Romney was pummeling him in the ad wars.  But after Florida Newt’s support in the polls dwindled as the Tea Party and conservative evangelical vote switched to Santorum.

To me, one of the distinguishing features of Newt’s candidacy was just how hated he was by both the media punditocracy and by my colleagues in political science.  I was reminded of this when I looked at the recent Pew report documenting the tone of media coverage of the various Republican candidates during the nomination fight.   As you can see in this chart put together by Peter Cahill based on the Pew Report of media coverage, except for a brief period heading into and just after Newt’s victory in the South Carolina primary, his media coverage was uniformly negative.  Indeed, it started out negative, and largely remained that way through most of his candidacy.

.Compare this to Mitt Romney’s coverage, against based on the Pew Report. Although Mitt had his share of negative coverage, it was much more evenly balanced, for the most part, between negative and positive tone through much of his campaign.

 

Now, let me make clear that I am not necessarily asserting that Newt’s predominantly negative coverage reflected reporters’ animosity toward him.  Instead it may have been driven more by media perceptions that his campaign was poorly run and that he never had much chance of winning the nomination.   Still, I can’t discount the possibility that the two are at least distantly linked. Combined with the spending gap, the disparity in media tone in campaign coverage may lead some of Newt’s supporters to cry foul; clearly the odds were stacked – unfairly – against their man in this primary fight.  I don’t blame them for thinking so.  But I don’t think Newt lost because he was outspent, or because of predominantly negative news coverage. Ultimately, what doomed Gingrich was his record in several areas that, when publicized, caused an erosion of support among the Tea Party faction.  Perhaps none was more damning than Newt’s consulting work for Fannie Mae, which many Floridians blamed in part for the collapse of the housing market. Newt’s claim that he was merely a historian who gave impartial advice to Fannie Mae never really passed the smell test.  Throw in his ill-fated dalliance with Nancy Pelosi on behalf of combatting climate change, and you can understand why conservatives ultimately defaulted to Rick Santorum as the Mitt alternative.

Why did the Fat Man sing?  Not because of negative media coverage, or an inability to raise money, or because my political science colleagues positively despised the man. (For the record, I found him thoroughly entertaining!) Those were merely symptoms of a deeper malady: Gingrich was running in a Republican nomination race with a record that a good many Republican voters viewed as insufficiently conservative.

Who Doesn’t Love A Newt? Why Gingrich Should Win the Presidency

With friends like these, who needs enemies?  While Newt Gingrich has been touting the virtues of the 11th commandment (Thou Shall Not Speak Ill of a Fellow Republican), and reminding everyone how much he respects his competitors for the party nomination, they have unleashed a barrage of negative advertising  in Iowa designed to blunt his momentum there.  As this New York Times graphic indicates, much of the negative advertising has been paid for by so-called SuperPacs who, in theory, cannot coordinate their expenditures with any candidate.  But this does not prevent them from spending money on a candidate’s behalf. The L.A. Times reports: “According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, which tracks political spending, the pro-Romney group Restore Our Future has spent $2.5 million attacking Gingrich, $1.4 million of it in the last week. That makes Gingrich by far the most besieged candidate of the 2012 presidential cycle. Even President Obama has generated only $1.28 million in spending on negative ads, though far more will come in the general election. One ad analysis company, Kantar Media, said that Iowa airwaves had been clogged with more than 1,200 anti-Gingrich messages in the last several weeks.”

So far the ads appear to have hit their target; Newt’s polling numbers in Iowa have dropped, although his decline has not yet been matched by a corresponding polling climb by either Paul or Romney; the three are now in a scrum at the top with each drawing between 15-25% depending on the poll.  While he waits for his own shadow SuperPac-backed advertising to make an impact in Iowa through media buys, Gingrich has been forced to rely on free media to fight back against the paid advertising onslaught. Critics, however, are suggesting that Newt has already waited too long in responding in kind to the negative attacks.

Meanwhile, the Republican establishment has made it as clear as can be that they would rather eat chicken with their fingers  alongside the hired help than see Newt become president.  Yesterday George “Poppy” Bush unofficially endorsed Mitt Romney for Club President while taking a thinly veiled shot at the Newtster. ( As Jack Goodman points out, the photos from this endorsement session may not play as well as Romney would hope outside the country club set.  Here Poppy and the Silver Fox doze while Mitt regales them with tales from his days “roughing it” in Paris. “So that’s when I realized Chub had short-sheeted me – goldarn that rascal!”)

Poppy’s endorsement came on the heels of George Will’s blistering editorial  characterizing Newt as the anti-conservative candidate. Will’s is but the latest salvo from pundits and party leaders essentially saying that Newt is unelectable.  At this point  it seems as if those sentiments are fueled as much by fear that Newt might win the nomination than by any rational reading of the polls, but no matter – they are sticking by their claim.

Is there anyone who would like to see Newt win this thing (besides those Tea Party crazies who appear ready to vote for him)?   Why yes – the nation’s artists!  Cartoonists are salivating at the prospect of replacing the relatively bland Obama with their dream caricature.  And songwriters can dust off all those old Newt protest songs that were in vogue two decades ago! (Hat tip to Sally…) .

 

So, in the spirit of giving, let’s all raise up our tails and give Newt a holiday salute!

Parsing the Iowa Poll: Why It’s Good News for Newt

By now most of the media outlets have picked up on the Des Moines Register poll that was released last night, but I want to address a couple of points that may have been missed in the extensive media coverage.  First, it’s worth reminding everyone that polling a caucus state is much more difficult than for a regular primary because the polling outfit has to sample the population of likely caucus voters, which is quite small.  Part of the reason the Des Moines poll garners so much attention is that it generally has a good track record in forecasting the caucus results.  (The paper has been running this poll going back to the Reagan years, so they have some experience in polling Iowa caucuses).  Nonetheless, there are lots of assumptions built into the forecast that leave room for error.  And, there’s still a month and several Republican debates to go. Note that only 28% of those polled in Iowa say their mind is made up.  A lot can happen to change the dynamics on the ground there.

With those caveats, I want to highlight a couple of interesting findings from the actual poll. As I noted in my last post, not only does Gingrich lead among likely caucus voters with 25%, he is the second choice of 18% of the survey respondents, which also leads the field.  In terms of second choice candidates, Romney is second with 15%, and Perry third at 12%.

Gingrich also has the second fewest votes for “least liked”, with only 6% of respondents designating him as such. Santorum leads with only 4% choosing him as least liked.  Romney and Bachmann, however, tie for the lead as least liked, with both getting 15%.

When asked which of the candidates whom they haven’t seen they would most like to see, Gingrich leads the field with 26% of respondents saying he’s the one they want to meet. That suggests that he has potential to win over more voters.  Romney, in contrast, is grouped down with the rest of the field with 15% of respondents saying he’s the candidate they most want to meet.

When asked about various candidate qualities, Gingrich is the overwhelming choice as the most knowledgeable (58%), most experienced (58%) and most like Ronald Reagan (28%).  No one else comes close in these categories.  He also has a slim lead over Romney (22-20%) as most likely to turn the economy around. Finally, Gingrich finishes first as the candidate most likely to bring change, with 27%, followed by Paul at 18%.

However, it is not all bad news for Romney. He is viewed as the most “presidential” (34%) and “most electable” (38%).  Gingrich is a respectable second in those categories.

On the whole, the internals of this poll are more favorable to Gingrich than even the top number showing Gingrich in the lead.  And they raise a critical question for Romney:  Is it even worth devoting resources to Iowa, thus raising media expectations that may be hard to meet?  The answer, I think, may turn on whether Romney calculates that his superior resources will allow him to turn out the vote in numbers greater than suggested by this poll, and that Gingrich will be unable to translate his polling support into actual votes.  Keep in mind that four years ago this calculation didn’t work in Romney’s favor, as Iowan conservatives coalesced behind Huckabee even though Romney spent scads of money in the state.  In looking at the poll results, I can see this same dynamic unfolding in January, with many caucus participants opting for their second choice option.  Note that this poll was in the field before Cain announced that he was suspending his campaign.   The wildcard is Paul, but as I noted yesterday, while I’m sure he’s going to win his 15-18%, the polling results indicate that may be his ceiling; he’s the second choice of only 7% of likely caucus goers.

I’ve discussed in previous posts how Romney might change his strategy to take on Gingrich, so won’t belabor the point here.  Interestingly, the Republican establishment continues to believe – or to hope – that Gingrich’s candidacy is flawed, and that he will implode, ceding the field to Romney.  But if I’m Mitt, I would pay less attention to what the experts keep saying, and more to what the polls indicate is actually going to happen in Iowa.

Holy Iowa! The Mitt Has Hit the Fan!

For the night owls among you, the Des Moines Register has released its latest Iowa caucus poll and it is good news for Newt – and bad news for Romney.  Given the late hour, I’ll give you the highlights now and present a more detailed analysis tomorrow (actually, later today!)  As of now, the survey shows Gingrich in the lead with 25% of likely Republican voters.  Here’s the kicker: Ron Paul is in a virtual tie with Romney – Paul is second at 18%, with Romney in third with 16%. Note: this poll was taken before Cain announced he was suspending his campaign.  (The poll consists of 401 likely caucus participants and has a margin of error of just under 5%.) . Bachmann and Cain are at 8%, Perry and Santorum at 6%, and Huntsman, who is not campaigning in Iowa, trails the field with 2%.

It’s hard to exaggerate just how good this poll is for Gingrich.  First, consider that he has gained 18% since the last Register poll conducted Oct. 23-26.  In that poll, Cain led the field with 23%.  Romney was in a virtual tie at 22%. Gingrich was in single digits at 8%. This latest poll suggests that much of Cain’s support has migrated to Gingrich.  With Cain’s decision today to suspend his campaign, I expect Gingrich will gain additional support.

Second, most respondents choose Gingrich as their second choice. All told, 43% of those polled list Gingrich as either their first or second choice. This means that Gingrich is likely to take most of Cain’s remaining support (and who will Cain endorse?) and  if other candidates falter, Gingrich is most likely to benefit.

Third, Romney has lost 6% in Iowa just at the moment he has decided to go all in. His first television ad just went up, and a campaign spokesperson acknowledged that Mitt was in the Iowa race to win before walking back that statement a bit later in order to play the expectations game.  But make no mistake about it – if Romney finishes behind Gingrich AND Paul, it will raise serious questions regarding his candidacy – and about the judgment of the Republican establishment and the punditocracy that swears Gingrich’s support will not hold.

Keep in mind, however, that a lot can happen in 30 days.  Eleven percent of those polled say they are uncommitted, and 60% indicate they are willing to change their mind.  I expect Mitt and the other Republicans to bring out the heavy artillery against Newt in the next month.  The next two Republican debates will also be crucial.  But for now, if I’m Mitt, I am very worried.

I’ll have a more detailed analysis tomorrow…. .

I, of the Newt

The roll out of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, beginning with his May 11 announcement of his candidacy, has not gone well. His claim, during his appearance on Meet the Press, that Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare was “right-wing social engineering” prompted a backlash from fiscal conservatives whose support Newt will need if he hopes to win the Republican nomination. Chastened, Gingrich walked slightly back from his initial criticism, but not before the media had a field day emphasizing the rift between Gingrich and the party’s presumed power brokers.

This misstep was but one factor that led many journalists, bloggers and pundits to essentially declare Gingrich’s candidacy D.O.A.   Jonathan Bernstein’s Washington Post column is not atypical: “Newt Gingrich? For president? C’mon. He is Sarah Palin without the strong core of enthusiastic fans — and with a marital history worse than that of John Edwards. There’s no real chance that he’s going to be the Republican nominee for president.”

What are we to make of these criticisms?  Polling data seems to provide solid evidence that Gingrich’s candidacy is, indeed, a long shot. Obama leads Gingrich by 16% on average in the four polls taken in the last month that match them up. Indeed, Obama has led Gingrich by double digits in 12 of 14 head-to-head polls taken since the start of 2011.  But these head-to-head polls are essentially meaningless this far in advance of the 2012 election.  Keep in mind that none of the Republican candidates – declared and undeclared – match up very well with Obama in head-to-head polling right now.  The closest is probably Romney, but he typically trails Obama by some 3-7% in most surveys.

At this point, however, Republican presidential candidates are not trying to beat Obama – they are trying to beat other Republicans.   To do so, they need to survive the invisible primary – the period from now until the start of the actual nomination process in early 2012.  That requires staying within the top tier of candidates, as identified by the media, for the next nine months.  The media defines candidate viability largely based on two factors: doing well in the polls, and showing significant fundraising capability.  There’s no reason to suggest Gingrich can’t stay within the top 2-4 candidates based on these criteria. Then comes the actual nominating process, beginning most likely with  Iowa and New Hampshire.  Can Gingrich do well in these contests?  At this point, it is impossible to say.  But his chances are no worse than any of the other major Republican candidates.  Nationally, the latest Gallup survey of Republican and Republican-leaning individuals puts him third, behind Romney and Palin, in the race for the Republican nomination.  Again, at this stage, polling largely reflects name recognition – see Trump, Donald – but it means he is probably going to be viewed as viable by the media at least for the next few months.  Looking ahead to Iowa, with Huckabee out, Gingrich is likely to be among the top three candidates at this point, and if he comes out of there no lower than third he has a good shot of being competitive in New Hampshire.

Keep in mind that Republicans’ now fractured support will eventually coalesce behind someone who will run against Obama in 2012, and whoever that is will have a built-in support of some 45% of the voters from the start – higher if perceptions of the economy do not turn around.  In looking over the likely Republican candidates – Romney, Palin, Pawlenty, Huntsman, Santorum, Giuliani, Cain or Bachmann, I see no one at this point who is without flaws.  But one of them (or some other candidate – Rick Perry?) will win the nomination and immediately accrue considerable support among voters seeking change.

In short, it is far too early to dismiss Gingrich’s candidacy based on the initial bumps on which the media has focused so heavily. Contrary to Charles Krauthammer’s prognosis,  Gingrich remains very much a viable candidate.  And, if things get tough, he can always call on Shakespeare’s Second Witch, whose incantations proved fatal to another national leader:

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Powerful trouble?  But for whom?  Stay tuned.

Addendum: Add Jim Fallows to the lengthy list of those who think Newt has no chance of winning the presidency.