The Newton Bomb Hits the Campaign

Everybody loves a winner.  Except when they really really hate him.

The latest poll out of Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation caucus  in a bit more than 40 days, has Newt Gingrich up by an astounding 13% , 32%-19% over his closest rival Mitt Romney. (The Rasmussen poll was in the field Nov. 15 and has a 3.5% margin of error.) This comes on the heels of the second most recent Iowa poll, in the field Nov. 11-13, that showed Gingrich in a dead heat for the lead in Iowa with Herman Cain.  Both polls are of likely voters.  Now, the usual caveats should be noted: the race is still very fluid, polling a caucus state is notoriously difficult, and the Rasmussen poll is based on an automated survey.  My guess is Newt’s lead in Iowa isn’t that big – if he has a lead at all. Note that in the RealClear Politics composite polling, Gingrich is now tied with Romney for second in Iowa, behind Cain. Both Cain and Romney, however, are seeing their polling number dropping fast. (Newt is green in the chart below, Cain red and Romney purple.)

The Iowa results reaffirm what recent national polls have indicated: Newt’s back in the race, and in a big way.  And, with that resurgence, Newt has, apparently, begun raising money and, in a little noted news story, some of the campaign staff that deserted him early in the year are now rejoining his crusade.   At this rate, I expect his ex-wives to publicly endorse his candidacy at any moment.  Everybody loves a winner!

Except when they don’t. Newt’s revival has caused no little consternation among pundits, particularly on the Left who had already written the Newtster off months ago. Make no bones about it, they are not happy that Newt has resurrected his campaign and the barrage of criticism they have leveled at him is greater than anything any of the other Republican frontrunners have received. (For the latest broadsides, see here and here).

In their defense, Newt’s record provides plenty of ammunition for his critics. I’ve reviewed some of the more damning incidents in my previous post, but it’s all fair game, as Gingrich himself has acknowledged, and it will all be revisited ad nauseam during the next few weeks.  Nonetheless, I can’t help but think that something else is driving the intensity of these attacks.  It may be that, compared to Bachmann, Cain and Perry, Gingrich actually seems qualified to be president.

In any case, the question remains: will this renewed scrutiny damage Newt the way it did previous frontrunners?  Gingrich seems to understand that the answer to this question depends heavily on how he responds to the rehashing of all these events.   He has already formulated his response to revelations that his lobbying – er, consulting firm – earned millions of dollars from the government-back mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even though Gingrich has spent much of his current campaign criticizing their role in the housing crisis.  Gingrich argues that he gave them advice, which they didn’t take, and that he didn’t lobby members of Congress directly (hence he wasn’t a lobbyist). Indeed, he has tried to convert this political lemon into lemonade by arguing it is a reminder that he understands how Washington works!  That answer is not going to sit well with everyone, and already his rivals for the Republican nomination, like Michelle Bachmann, are now pushing back against his candidacy by citing his consulting work for the mortgage firms.

Most of the criticism from the Left, I think, misses what for me is one of the most interesting aspects of Newt’s resurgence.  He is attracting support from the Tea Party conservatives who were previously courted by Bachmann, Perry and Cain.  Their support comes despite clear evidence that on many issues, Gingrich – like Perry – is not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.  Remember, he initially jumped on portions of the Ryan budget plan as “right-wing social engineering” before backing down, and he seemed to acknowledge the need to address global warming.  These are not positions that will sit well with the Tea Party faction and I expect they will be revisited in coming debates.  And I haven’t even begun discussing his personal life.

To be sure, for many Republicans, Gingrich’s stock will rise in direct proportion to the attacks on him from the Liberal side of the punditocracy; after all, they will reason, if the Left fears him that much, maybe he is qualified to be president!  But at some point they are going to have to look at his record, and decide whether he is a true conservative or not.  If he passes muster with the conservative wing of the party, however, Newt just might find that his more moderate record appeals to the independents who promise to be a crucial voting bloc come next November.

Newt Gingrich – the next President of the United States?  Three weeks ago I would have been horse-whipped for even mentioning Gingrich and President in the same sentence.  Now it suddenly doesn’t seem completely implausible.

And next week?  Maybe Sarah Palin will announce her third-party bid!

You can’t make this stuff up.

1:52 PM Breaking News (I’ve always wanted to write that!)

A just-released Magellan poll has Gingrich in a dead-heat with Romney in New Hampshire.   As you know, Romney has been so far ahead in New Hampshire that most Republicans aren’t bothering to compete there.   Again, it bears repeating: it is far too early to declare anyone the real frontrunner in the Republican race, but who would have predicted any poll showing Gingrich even in shouting distance of Romney in New Hampshire?  (Full disclosure: I haven’t looked at the poll’s internals so buyer beware…)

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.


Addendum Two:

Here’s the link to the actual survey.  Note that because it is of New Hampshire voters, it includes a healthy does of independents.  Note that Gingrich’s support comes predominantly from conservatives.  All this deserves a separate post, and I’ll put one up as soon as I can. Meanwhile, go to the following link and make your own judgments:

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