Tag Archives: Newt Gingrich; 2012 republican nomination

What Really Happened in South Carolina, and What It Means For The Rest Of The Race

Did you hear that noise this morning?  It was the sound of heads in the punditocracy exploding in reaction to Newt Gingrich’s “surprise” win in South Carolina yesterday. The new – and wrong – post-South Carolina conventional wisdom is captured in Sean Trende’s assessment at RealClearPolitics:  “This vote was an utter repudiation of Romney, and it absolutely will be repeated in state after state if something doesn’t change the basic dynamic of the race.”

No, what this vote repudiated was the media’s misguided belief that Romney was a strong candidate in the first place, one who was on the cusp of closing this race out in overwhelming fashion. In truth, what the first three contests have confirmed is what I’ve been telling you all along:  Mitt Romney is a weak candidate – one who has never demonstrated in five years of running for president that he could broaden his support beyond the country club/Wall St. set.

Before developing these points, let me summarize the state of the race as it actually stands, as opposed to where the pundits would have us believe it stands.  First, Gingrich won a decisive victory last night; with 100% of the precincts reporting he finished with 40.4% of the vote, easily besting Mitt who won 27.8%.  Santorum ran a distant third at 17% and Paul took 13%. (In a blow to Colbert fans, Herman Cain won only about 6,000 votes – or 1.1% – of the vote.)  In contrast to the two states won by Santorum and Romney, turnout was up by more than 30% (about 601,000 voters) over the 2008 total (about 450,000) – a sign that Gingrich energized the Tea Party base.  Gingrich probably won 23 of the 25 delegates at stake, with Mitt holding on to take the two in the first congressional district that includes Charleston.  (Note, however, that congressional district lines in South Carolina may yet change, pending a court challenge after the 2010 redistricting.) That puts Newt in the lead in the all-important delegate count, 27-17, over Mitt (note that Iowa has not awarded delegates yet, contrary to what some media outlets may imply.)

Now on to the pundits’ assessments. They are, as a whole, predictably overreacting to yesterday’s results (sometimes in hilarious fashion).  Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take:  “This is the Republican crack-up people have been predicting for years. Gingrich is on a roll. I think he can win this – and then lose this in a way that could change America history. That is a brief impression in one moment of time. But I cannot see Romney winning this at this point. They are just not into him, and he’s an awful candidate.”  Taegan Goddard opines at Political Wire: “By any measure, it’s a devastating loss to frontrunner Mitt Romney.”  And this from the online newspaper TheHill: “Gingrich’s victory makes for many more uncertainties in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, which had seemed like a foregone conclusion a few days ago when Mitt Romney was in the lead in South Carolina polls.”

You get the picture. In a span of a bit less than a week the conventional wisdom has gone from planning Romney’s coronation to contemplating “the Republican crack-up” in the wake of Romney’s “devastating” loss.  Neither perspective is correct.  I’ve gone on at some length in previous posts to point out Romney’s weaknesses, as indicated by the results in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Now is the time to remember his strengths.  First, he is not an “awful” candidate – he is a very good candidate, one the majority of Republican voters consistently view in favorable terms.  He has loads of money, knows how to run a campaign and is, in fact, a solid debater who generally does well in these formats.  The problem is that he has never demonstrated the capacity to win over conservative Republican voters for reasons that I want to develop in a separate post.  For now, let me call it his “authenticity” problem:  Republicans do not know what his core values really are because those beliefs seem, based on his past record, to be somewhat malleable.

What about Gingrich?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candidate held in such contempt by the media and party establishment.  And that is precisely what is fueling his success among Tea Party activists and the Republican base.  In a significant ironic twist, the Establishment’s efforts to excommunicate Gingrich for his past heresies have simply strengthened his appeal to Republican nomination voters.  Here’s a career politician who is making an effective case that he’s the candidate of change!  One thing that has become increasingly clear to me is that the Establishment’s collective disdain for Newt as a person (the term “blowhard” is frequently used) has distorted their assessment of his candidacy. Because they don’t like Newt, they can’t see how anyone else can support him.

So where does this race stand?  Exactly where it stood a week ago.  Lost in the handwringing over Mitt’s “collapse” in South Carolina is that his support there really never wavered from the 28-31% range.  What happened in the end is that as South Carolina voters started paying attention, beginning with Monday’s debate, they moved to their natural inclination, which was for most of them to support Newt.  And so he rose in the polls to the expected equilibrium outcome.   But Mitt didn’t really lose all that much support post-debate.  We shouldn’t lose sight of this.  It bears repeating:  South Carolina is to Newt as New Hampshire was to Mitt: his backyard state.

In the next several days I’ll begin my Florida assessment.   But I want to end here by raising a somewhat speculative point.   I once thought that the advent of the “blogosphere”, with its myriad political outlets, would broaden and diversify debate beyond the cloistered Washington-based conventional wisdom that dominated the pre-internet political discussions.  I’m increasingly convinced, however, that this hasn’t happened.  Instead, the blogosphere has become dominated by its own talking (writing?) heads who have integrated themselves into the media establishment, and whose control over twitter feeds and on-line posts has exacerbated the problems associated with the old media.  The pundits now flit from online to talk show, spreading their misguided, often partisan-based analysis.   New conventional wisdoms are created, disseminated, accepted and then rejected with increasing rapidity.   The blogosphere hasn’t so much improved debate as it has accentuated its worse tendencies.   As I read through the various online assessments of the race after Iowa and New Hampshire, and watched the talk shows, it amazed me just how wrong these assessments were – spectacularly wrong, in many cases.   The numbers, at least as I was reading them (and reporting them to you) weren’t supporting most of the claims I was hearing.

Look, although I’ll milk my South Carolina prediction for as long as you let me, long time readers know that I’m in no position to claim infallibility in these issues.  (Remember my Scott Brown prediction!)  But there’s something to be said for acknowledging how uncertain our assessments are.   I don’t think we get enough people saying “I really don’t know what is going to happen, so I’ll give you my partisan preference, and we can all pretend it is rooted in something more substantial than my hopes and prayers.  But it’s really not.”

With that in mind, let me make my prediction: Patriots 24, Ravens 20.  By the way, that’s a guess based on my hopes and prayers.

Gingrich In A Rout? Polls and Predictions For South Carolina Tonight

Based on surveys taken before last Monday’s South Carolina debate, Mitt Romney led Newt Gingrich in the RealClearPolitics aggregate poll by a comfortable 10%, 32.3% to 22%, and seemed poised to sweep the first three events in this nominating process,  thus cementing the inevitability mantra that both pundits and some scholars were chanting. Five days and two debates later, Gingrich is on the cusp – if the latest polls are accurate – of winning a blowout victory in South Carolina.  The aggregate poll has him up by 5%, 33.5-28.5%, over Romney, but the latest ARG poll released today has Gingrich up by a whopping 14%, 40-26% over Romney, with Paul a distant third.  That poll is identical to the results from the final day of PPP’s three-day tracking poll.  If this holds up, Gingrich will have gained 18% in five short days, while Romney would have dropped 6% – a turnaround of 24%.  This is a stunning reversal in such a short time period.  And Gingrich’s margin could grow – 20% of survey respondents say they could change their mind, and 60% of Romney supporters list Gingrich as their second choice (all from the PPP poll).  Among Santorum supporters, 38% say they may change their mind – and 42% of them list Gingrich as their second choice.

Barring a Bachmann miracle, then, it appears that Gingrich is poised to cap a remarkable turnaround with a convincing victory in the biggest state to go to the polls so far.   With that in mind, what should we look for in tonight’s results, and what are the implications for the race after South Carolina?

  1. Electability: It has been a central tenet of this campaign that Romney has the best chance of any Republican to beat Obama in the general election.  But the final polls show Gingrich closing that gap, with this YouGov poll indicating that 72% think Gingrich is very likely or somewhat likely to beat Obama, compared to 80% who think this of Romney.  Fifty percent of those polled say their support was based primarily on this factor, with 48% saying it was based on the issues.
  2. The gender gap: Romney has been consistently outpolling Gingrich among women, but in South Carolina that gap has almost been erased, with all three of the most recent polls, including  YouGov, PPP and the ARG, showing Gingrich leading Romney among women.  In fact, in the ARG poll Gingrich does better among women than he does among men.  This suggests the Marianne issue may not have the gender-based legs that some anticipated.
  3. Class:  There is a distinct class bias in Romney and Gingrich’s support, with polls indicating that Romney does better among South Carolina voters earning more than $80,000, but Gingrich winning all incomes groups below that number.
  4. Favorability:  Romney has consistently been viewed more favorably than the more polarizing Gingrich, but that gap also closed in South Carolina.  Gingrich’s final favorable/unfavorable numbers in the PPP poll are 54/37 – Romney’s are 51/42.  Will that favorable ratio hold for Gingrich as we head to Florida?
  5. The issues: Gingrich made inroads on Romney’s strong suit – the economy – with about equal numbers choosing each candidate as best able to handle economic issues.

Note that these are all from the latest polls – it remains to be seen whether they will hold up in tonight’s exit polls.  But they do provide some evidence that Gingrich has closed the gap on a number of advantages formerly associated with Romney – at least in this state.

What to look for tonight.

Given the polling numbers, I expect the networks to call this almost immediately when the polls close at 7 p.m.  If they don’t, there’s hope for Romney that this will be less than a rout.   South Carolina is really three somewhat distinct voting areas: the low country, the midlands, and the upstate area.   Expect Gingrich to dominate upstate – the region where Huckabee did very well in 2008 (Greenville-Spartanburg), while Romney needs to draw heavily in the midland and coastal areas (the swath from Charleston up through Columbia).

Remember, McCain won only 33% of the vote here in 2008, with Huckabee a close second at 30%.  Right now Gingrich is on track to beat McCain’s total and his winning margin, but by how much depends in part on turnout.  Predicted turnout is about 450,000 – anything higher will likely benefit Gingrich.  In 2008, independents were 18% of the vote – I expect that to increase with no Democratic primary (South Carolina is an open primary state).  However, I expect Paul to draw as much support from this group as Romney does, which may give Paul enough of a boost to finish a strong third.

Keep in mind that one of the other important stories tonight is whether Santorum can beat Paul for third place. If he can’t, and he finishes in single digits, it will make it hard for him to raise money and compete in Florida, which has very expensive media markets. Remember, Santorum’s victory in Iowa was the result of his ability to engage in old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning. He won’t be able to recreate that scenario in Florida, so doing well tonight is critical for him.

With that background, here are my predictions, per tradition:

Gingrich 41%

Romney 26%

Paul 18%

Santorum 14%.

Polls close at 7 p.m.  I’ll be on shortly before for some live blogging.

Newt’s National Post-Debate “Surge”: Does It Matter in South Carolina?

A day after Monday’s Republican debate, the general consensus within the punditocracy is that Newt was the clear winner.  The sentiment was captured in this post-debate analysis by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz: “The 16th debate of the GOP primary campaign produced one of the strongest performances in weeks by the struggling Gingrich. In contrast, through much of the night, Romney, the clear front-runner and, to many Republicans, the inevitable nominee, seemed either defensive or evasive. He redeemed himself in the final minutes, but he must be happy that factors beyond the exchanges will determine the outcome of the race.”

At least one poll seems to support this collective judgment; in the first post-debate poll I’ve seen, Rasmussen finds that Newt has jumped nationally by 11% in the last two weeks to close within three, 30-27% of Romney.  I’m guessing most of that climb came after Monday night. Not surprisingly, Newt went on the air yesterday in South Carolina with a new advertisement highlighting the most memorable point in the debate: the exchange between Gingrich and Juan Williams regarding food stamps, Obama and jobs – an exchange that brought the partisan crowd to their feet in a genuine red meat moment.  (Notice the cool background music!)

Last night on Fox, meanwhile, everybody’s favorite moosemeister, Sarah Palin came as close to endorsing Newt as one can by arguing that Tea Partiers should probably support him in South Carolina in order to extend the Republican race so that each candidate is fully vetted.

The question is: does any of this make any difference to the outcome in South Carolina?  And, given the prevailing media narrative (one supported by many political scientists) that has this race a lock for Romney, does South Carolina’s outcome even matter?  For what it’s worth, two more South Carolina polls were released yesterday – both in the field before Monday’s debate – and both show Romney comfortably ahead of the second-place Gingrich by about 30-20%.  But – keeping the Rasmussen poll in mind – can an impressive debate performance keyed to a well-funded advertising campaign cut into Romney’s lead in South Carolina? Earlier in the fall, during the invisible primary,  Gingrich rode a series of strong debate performances to the top of the polls, only to come crashing down as the other candidates’ exposed his record in a series of campaign ads.  But Gingrich’s debate-based polling boost took place when potential voters were just beginning to pay attention to the race.  Now, after Iowa and New Hampshire, information levels are higher, the media narrative has changed in a way that may make it less susceptible to alteration, and it’s not clear that the 16th debate will have nearly the impact of the earlier ones.

Hoping to build on the positive reviews of his debate performance, yesterday Gingrich called on his Republican opponents Rick Santorum and Rick Perry to clear the field so that the conservative vote won’t be splintered, thus allowing Romney to get the nomination.  But this plea will almost surely fall on deaf ears, particularly since it appears, if media reports are to be believed, that Iowa is set to certify its caucus results showing that Santorum, and not Romney, was the winner.  (If true, so much for the much ballyhooed media drumbeat that Romney is the first non-incumbent to ever win both Iowa and New Hampshire.)  That would mean that Santorum beat Gingrich in both Iowa and New Hampshire – hardly grounds for dropping out now in deference to Newt.

It’s unclear to me whether the Rasmussen national poll is anything more than an ephemeral bump in Gingrich’s standing based on the glowing reviews of his debate performance, and what significance it has for the South Carolina race.  In public comments, Gingrich has equivocated regarding whether he needs to win in South Carolina in order to stay in the race.  My guess is that if Romney wins with about 30% of the vote, but Gingrich is a close second, the Newtster will stay in.

All this suggests that Thursday’s debate, to be televised by CNN, looms even larger in terms of its potential impact on South Carolina’s Saturday primary.   Can Newt reprise Monday’s stellar performance?  Will Paul rebound from perhaps his worst debate so far?  Will Romney feel pressure to push back more aggressively against Newt?  What about the two Ricks – will we see Angry and Dopey, or Happy and Less Dopey (I’m joking, Perry supporters!)?  Questions, questions….alas, I have no answers.  We will all have to wait at least another day.

One thing I do know: Mitt’s team is not going to sit around to find out if this surge is real.  Expect a hard-hitting anti-Newt advertising spot to begin airing in South Carolina in the next three days.

Advertising, Iowa and Newt: It’s Not Over Until The Big Head Croaks

Did Newt Gingrich make a mistake in not responding in kind to the onslaught of negative advertising directed at him in Iowa this past month?  Most political observers are blaming Gingrich’s decline in the polls – his support has dropped by about half in the span of a month – to his decision to take the high road despite the media blitz targeting him. Figures released by the Campaign Media Analysis Group show that 45% of all the ads aired to date in December have been negative attacks on Gingrich.  Much of that advertising has been funded by SuperPacs who operate on behalf of candidates, but without – in theory – any direct connection to those candidates. In contrast, Mitt Romney largely escaped a similar fate; CMAG figures indicate that negative ads against Romney comprised only 20 percent of all television ads in Iowa this month.

Pundits are claiming that this more than 2-1 ratio in negative ads is the primary reason that Gingrich’s lead over Romney has evaporated. But are they correct?  Political scientists’ views toward the effectiveness of campaign advertising have evolved through the decades.  Initial studies in the 1940’s and 50’s suggested that advertising had “minimal effects” on voters’ attitudes and behavior, but more recent studies have painted a more nuanced picture, suggesting for instance that advertising may have substantial effects on voters preferences and turnout. But this is an evolving field of research, and much of the work on media effects in general is based on research conducted in simulated settings. For reasons of research design (and money), it is much harder to gauge the real world impact of paid advertising.

If there is growing evidence that campaign advertising does have an impact on voters’ preferences, it’s still not clear why.  How does negative advertising work?  One theory is that by providing new information regarding a candidate, negative ads cause voters to update their assessments of that candidate.  So, when watching the debates, audiences were impressed by Newt’s command of issues and his policy pronouncements. However, when told by a multitude of advertisements that Newt lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voters began to reassess whether he was a true conservative who believed in smaller government and who really opposed these government-backed mortgage lending giants.  Similarly, ads linking him to Nancy Pelosi and supporting global warming, or advocating for the individual mandate, had the same impact – they provided new information that contradicted the story he was telling.  In short, negative ads have durable effects because they change people’s opinions of candidates.  This is true even though studies indicate that viewers forget the specific content of the ad soon after watching or hearing it.  No matter – the damage has been done.

A second theory, however, suggests that negative ads activate particular memories or emotions that then become a major part of how an individual assesses a candidate at any particular moment. (Whether they activate hidden cues, or simply lead individuals to weight certain cues more heavily, is not clear.) So, when Iowans see an ad that juxtaposes Newt’s claims that he’s a small government cultural conservative with evidence regarding how he has behaved – lobbying for Freddie Mac, multiple marriages, etc. – it evokes a particular emotion – say, Newt is a serial hypocrite.  And that becomes the primary cue by which individuals decide whether to support Newt or not.   In effect, negative ads prime voters to think of Newt through a particular cognitive frame.

Now, these two theories might seem like academic hair splitting. No matter which theory is right, both suggest the obvious: that the barrage of negative ads altered how Iowans evaluated Newt’s candidacy.  And that is consistent with the more recent political science research that does find substantial effects for some type of advertising. However, the two theories have potentially different implications regarding how Newt might have responded to these ads.  According to Theory I – let’s call it the rational model – the negative advertising barrage has fundamentally changed many Iowans’ views toward Newt; he is now viewed much less positively, making it less likely that caucus-goers will support him come January 3.  In short, the advertising has had a durable, lasting impact on voters’ attitudes toward Newt and in the absence of countervailing evidence; these opinions are not likely to change.

Theory 2, however (we’ll call it the priming model) suggests that some of these advertising effects may be more transitory – that the traits or attributes associated with Newt that the advertisements invoked may fade over time.  From this perspective, in the absence of further priming, voters may fall back to their prior views toward Newt – assuming they have strong prior beliefs.  Interestingly, there is some fascinating research done by the team of Alan Gerber, James Gimpel, Don Green and Daron Shaw on campaign advertising during Rick Perry’s 2006 reelection campaign for Texas governor that suggests that the impact of television advertising, while substantial, is also relatively short-lived, consistent with the priming model.

Extrapolating from that and similar research to Newt’s case in Iowa, however, is fraught with difficulty. For instance, the Perry study looked primarily at positive advertising.  Moreover, there may be differences in how individuals react to symbolic ads designed to evoke a particular emotion versus a more information-based ad that provides new evidence by which to judge a candidate. Simply put, there’s a lot we don’t know about the role that advertising plays in campaigns.

Keeping this uncertainty in mind, one could argue that, following the logic of the priming model, Newt calculated that the initial impact of negative advertising might be substantial, but that it would lessen over time.  From this perspective, staying positive and trying to ride out the initial storm may have seemed quite logical. Of course, he likely underestimated the unprecedented volume and the duration of the negative advertising directed toward him. Still, it provides at least a plausible explanation for Newt’s response to the negative advertising.

If this model is correct, however, it suggests that Newt – and his campaign surrogates – have no time to waste if they want to stop the bleeding.  The priming theory indicates that what really matters for Newt’s fortunes is whose advertising goes on the air last, in the final days before the actual caucus. It is the impact of those ads that voters will bring with them into the voting booth.  This means   that Newt’s shadow SuperPacs may still impact this race if they start airing negative ads against his opponents during these remaining three days before Tuesday’s primary.  For what it’s worth, there’s evidence that Newt’s surrogates are pursuing this strategy, beginning with this negative mailer directed at Romney that went out recently.  Meanwhile, Newsmax is funding  this half-hour infomercial, hosted by Ronald Reagan’s son Michael, to run on Iowa television during the next several days.  At the same time, it appears that other candidates are now beginning to target Romney.

Will this be enough to change the dynamics of this race?  In 2008, fully 30% of Iowans made up their mind regarding who to vote for in the last three days of the campaign.  This suggests we may yet be in for more surprises.

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!