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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Close, Fierce Race Ahead Regardless of GOP Nominee

If there was ever a contest for “most polarizing figure in America,” my guess is the final face-off would be Newt Gingrich vs. Paul Ryan or John Boehner, with Gingrich winning by a slam-dunk. Ryan and Boehner are emblematic protectors of economic privilege, true. But Gingrich not only divides America with vicious ad hominem attacks and rhetorical bomb-throwing; he divides the GOP like none of their leaders in recent memory.
The latest corroboration of Gingrich’s divisive fallout in the GOP can be found in Jackie Calmes’ article in the Sunday New York Times, “As Gingrich’s Star Rises, So Do His Party’s Concerns,” which includes a round-up of some of the nail-biting comments being made by Republican insiders:

Since we don’t know how he got here, I don’t know how he can be stopped,” said Ed Rogers, a longtime Washington lobbyist and party strategist who worked for the first President George Bush. …
…Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who served in the House when Mr. Gingrich was speaker, has been an outspoken critic. I’ve had any number of members of Congress come over to me and thank me for what I’m saying,” he said. “They say, ‘This guy is going to kill us if he gets the nomination.’ ”
…Stuart Rothenberg, an independent analyst of Congressional races, said that Mr. Gingrich could hurt other Republicans running next year. “There are some Republican insiders I talk to who think it would be a full-fledged blowout,” he said.
…”The fact that he has no infrastructure scares me to death,” said a party chairman in a battleground state, who asked not to be named given his need to remain neutral…”How do we make sure this train wreck doesn’t happen?” he added. “That’s the conversation among the politicos.”

There is even talk of that most treasured of Democratic fantasies, a brokered GOP convention, as Calmes reports:

Some Tea Party conservatives have even begun talking of a brokered Republican convention in August to push for a candidate they feel is more conservative.
…”What is amazing is how many people feel this way,” said Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, a group affiliated with the Tea Party movement. “If you had a concerted effort, someone could force a brokered convention. The hard part is finding the right person.”

It would take a very close GOP delegate count next August to force a brokered convention. But, however unlikely, the buzz is out there, a perverse tribute to Newt’s staying power as poster-boy for polarization.
I would not be shocked if Romney’s big money supporters begin pouring dough into Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign as part of a desperate ‘Stop Newt’ effort. A Paul upset in Iowa would slow Newt for a minute, but even a strong second-place finish in New Hampshire would keep Gingrich afloat. For Dems, the good news is that a long, hard-fought Republican primary season is likely, given the volatile polls we have seen thus far.
At a minimum, the emergent GOP front-runner will have already been subjected to some of the most thoroughly-tested and brutal campaign ads yet created, which Dems can tweak, polish and amplify. Incumbents still have an important advantage as the more unified party.
Odds are, the Republicans will nominate a seriously damaged candidate. But, whether it’s Newt or Romney, they will likely unify at the convention and line up to support the nominee. Much depends on how much damage they do to each other in the primaries — maybe not as much as the economic trends going forward, but their fall campaign could be impaired by still-echoing internecine strife.
The Obama campaign’s early attack ads targeting Romney are understandable, since they believe he is the more formidable opponent. And it’s easy to envision ‘blowout’ scenarios in which Newt’s reverse coattails help Dems down-ballot.
But Dems should not underestimate Newt, nor overestimate Romney. If Newt shines compared to Obama in the last Presidential debate and the economy is trending downward, expect a close race. Gingrich has to be one of the most power-crazed presidential candidates ever, and he knows this is his last chance to win the white house. He will bring his ‘A’ game.
Romney, on the other hand, is not as good a debater as Newt, and his flip-flop baggage is extensive. Obama should best him in most of the debates. Romney’s best hope for beating Obama is a worsening economy.
I get the ‘Root for Newt’ mantra attributed to the Obama campaign. Axelrod and Plouffe, who have already conducted one impressive presidential campaign, are still among the smartest strategists in the Democratic Party. And the delicious prospect of a down-ballot disaster for the GOP under Newt sweetens the pot considerably. It’s hard to envision a similar rout for down-ballot Republicans if Romney is nominated, despite his significant vulnerabilities.
Both Republican front-runners can be beat, especially if favorable economic trends kick in. They are stuck with a largely discredited monomania about tax cuts for the rich being the panacea for all economic ills, and polls show the public isn’t buying it. The Obama campaign’s hopes for Gingrich’s nomination are understandable. But Dems should prepare for a fierce, close race regardless.

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