Free Markets, Free People

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The Newtron bomb and plastic, fantastic Mitt

Yesterday, on our podcast, Dale, Michael and I talked for quite some time about the significance of Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina.

Does it foretell a Gingrich nomination?   Probably not … or at least not necessarily.  What it may signal, more than anything, is that the GOP voter doesn’t want some timid nominee who is mostly in a prevent defense mode.  Or Mitt Romney as he has presently evolved.

I was under the mistaken impression that the interminable debates were really not having much of an effect.  The South Carolina debates and results changed that impression for me pretty dramatically.

What Gingrich accomplished, with those two debates, was electorally remarkable.  He literally changed the course of a primary that all the polls told us was Romney’s – and pretty comfortably too.

The big question though is what does it all mean?  After all there are many ways to interpret this primary result.

Perhaps the biggest take-away may be that voters want a fighter.   They’re tired of the apologies for what they believe.  They want someone who is, as Michael described Newt, “unapologetic” about their conservatism.

The question that then follows is, does that mean they want Newt?

That’s actually a complicated question.  Gingrich certainly was the choice in South Carolina after his “unapologetic” debate performances.  But, per the polls, he wasn’t their choice prior to them.  So has Newt suddenly become acceptable as a candidate or was it primary voters really expressing their dissatisfaction with the rest of the field and using Newt as their surrogate example of why?

I frankly think it is the latter.  Quin Hillyer described Newt as the “Bill Clinton of the right, half the charm and twice the abrasiveness”.

If you’ve at all followed Newt Gingrich’s career you understand the truth of HIllyer’s description.  Gingrich is, in political terms, a human hand grenade.  In his previous life as a minority member of Congress, he was a designated bomb thrower.   He has, many times in his career, managed to insert his foot in his mouth to such a depth that he’s killed the impetus of whatever good thing he had going at the time.

However, in the South Carolina debates, he said what many conservatives have been longing to hear said.  And he also did something that conservatives love – he smacked the mainstream media, not once but twice. 

But is that enough to carry  him through the nomination process to victory?  That’s the pregnant question.  Will voters tire of him quickly?  Will Romney again reinvent himself as a fighter for conservative values? 

One of the theories out there is that voters have factored Newt’s baggage into their calculations about the man and have decided, the hell with it.  But Conn Carroll reminds us that for the most part, ‘America hates Newt Gingrich’.  His negatives far outweigh his positives and he runs poorly against Obama.

Of course, he was running poorly against Romney in South Carolina until a few days ago.

The other question about Gingrich is can he manage to discipline himself enough to somehow avoid doing or saying something which would doom his run for the nomination and/or his candidacy should he win the nomination?  My guess is, if there was a betting line established on that question, the odds wouldn’t favor Newt at all.

Finally, there’s the question of how the big middle – the independent voter – will react to Newt.  While he may, at least for the moment, satisfy conservative voters, they won’t win the election for the right.  The premise of the Romney campaign, at least viewed from here, is that their primary goal must be to woo indies because, in their calculation, conservative voters will eventually come into the fold when it is clear that Romney is the inevitable nominee.

I don’t think that calculation is necessarily wrong, but it is very unattractive to conservative voters.   And what the Romney team doesn’t seem to understand is that these primaries, unlike the general election, are where political activists and conservatives are much more likely to show up than independent voters.  And, of course, if you can’t get past the primaries, how acceptable you’ve made yourself to indies is really a moot point, isn’t it?

So Florida just became a lot more interesting.  As did the debates that are going to happen in the state.  We should see at least some of the questions I’ve posed answered there, or at least be given a hint as to their eventual answer.

Is Newt the one or will he eventually bomb.   And will we see plastic fantastic Mitt Romney reinvent himself yet again in an attempt to defuse the Newtron bomb?

All this and more, coming to a state near you soon.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO