O.K., we're only six weeks from the Iowa Caucus and the first
actual votes in the 2012 Republican presidential campaign. The
configuration of the probable two finalists for the GOP nomination
was only half predictable a mere 90 days ago (just after Michele
Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll, Tim Pawlenty withdrew, Rick
Perry had just entered the race, and Herman Cain had not yet made
It was generally understood that Mitt Romney would be one of the
finalists. After all, he had been the s0-called "frontrunner" most of
the past year, and his poll numbers had held steady through the
ebb and flow of the pre-primary/caucus period. But Newt Gingrich?
Gingrich had earlier made a huge gaffe by criticizing congressional
leader and Tea Party favorite Paul Ryan. This had sent his poll numbers
down and almost off the charts. And then there was Newt's "baggage."
Finally, most of Newt's top campaign staff quit, complaining he was
not campaigning in the conventional way. Most importantly, perhaps,
his funds dried up, and he was reportedly $1 million in debt, with very
little coming in. It was, of course, hopeless.
The 2012 campaign had thus seemed to pass Newt Gingrich by. He did
not, however, have the decency to quit, as Pawlenty had. He declared he
would run an unconventional campaign. He moved long-time staff from
his private organizations into his campaign. And he waited.
But Gingrich was not "waiting for Godot." He was waiting for the
inevitable debates between the candidates. And he was lucky, too.
There were not a few debates scheduled. There were lots of debates
in August, September and November. Most of them were nationally
televised debates. He knew he was, by far, the best political debater
in his party, probably the best in any party, perhaps the best in
Meanwhile, most of the major announced candidates, and a few who
did not announce, took their turns in poll-driven "bubbles." Donald
Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and then Herman Cain. None
of these bubbles lasted more than a political nanosecond, but they
did catch public the public's attention. Perhaps not all of these bubbles
featured political heavyweights, but they were interesting characters,
and included a woman, a black man, and a tycoon with a hairstyle to
match his braggadocio. The interaction between them became a blood
sport, with audiences, egged on by the media, expecting confrontations,
exposes and face-to-face combat.
Two of the eight-to-ten major candidates did not seem to participate
in the blood sport. They were rarely criticized. Only one of them even
mildly criticized the others. The also-rans alternated between bravado
and whining, i.e., they did get enough air time in the debates, only they
had always stood for true conservative principles, and so on and so on.
Of course, surprises can still happen, but it would seem that the political
pennant race is now between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. As he
knew it would happen, the media's long knives are now out for Newt's
hide. President Obama's operatives, storing up their ammunition for
Mr. Romney, now have to think twice about who they will face in
November. The Old Media, having done in Mr. Cain (after much "digging"),
now think they have an easy task with Mr Gingrich whose "baggage" is
well-known and plentiful. You can already hear MSNBC, The Washington
Post, The New York Times and the liberal pundits, licking their collective
lips. Poor Newt Gingrich! He doesn't have a chance, does he?
This all remains to be seen. Mr. Gingrich is not only a superlative debater,
he is, after three decades, one of the masters (along with Bill Clinton) in
dealing with the media. It wasn't always so. Mr. Gingrich's thin skin used
to be legendary, as was his public temper.
The outcome remains to be seen and experienced. Mr. Romney, if he can
unexpectedly win Iowa, expectedly win New Hampshire, do very well in
South Carolina and then win Florida, will be the nominee. But if Mr.
Gingrich somehow wins Iowa, comes close in New Hampshire, and then
wins South Carolina (now plausible), could be on his way to the November
presidential world series.
I have written consistently over the past three months that the race is Mr.
Romney's to lose, and I still think this is mostly the case. I think he may now
have to go all out in Iowa to block Mr. Gingrich from breaking out. Mr.
Gingrich will have to maintain unprecedented (for him) self-discipline and
I have known Newt Gingrich for 27 years now, and seen him up close. Like
John McCain in 2008, he has come from far behind. An army "brat" born in
Harrisburg, PA, Gingrich is a true expert in military strategy, a bona fide
historian, and in spite of his intellectual prowess, a political "gut fighter"
as well. The odds were long against him, and even now, do not favor him.
He has more political warts than any major presidential candidate in memory.
But, as I once told him, conditions in 2012 could become so extreme, so dire,
that anything is possible. With the United States in an extraordinarily long
period of unemployment and lack of business confidence, our military
strength and influence waning, China and India rising, petty dictators in
Venezuela, North Korea and Iran threatening, Europe seeming on the edge
of economic collapse, a widespread grass roots conservative "Tea Party"
movement emerging to change American politics, a radical left "Occupy"
movement erupting with tents and sleeping bags in many American urban
parks, and the American public (and its political center) more unsettled
than since the inflationary political paralysis of the late 1970's, might we
say that 2012 fits the category of an "extreme" time?
Can anything happen?
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.