"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, January 30, 2012

Romney v. Gingrich

The Week has a persuasive analysis of six reasons why Mitt Romney appears to be pulling away from Newt Gingrich in Florida.   The Regular Guy interpolates his comments below:

1. Romney renewed his focus on destroying GingrichAfter getting trounced by Gingrich in South Carolina, Team Romney hatched a plan, say Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleney in The New York Times: "Make Newt mad and Mitt meaner." They unleashed a "blistering and unrelenting series of attacks," many delivered by a newly aggressive Romney himself, and used "all the visible and invisible tactics of political warfare" to paint Gingrich as an "erratic, unreliable Washington insider."

RG:   Well, sure.   But this "strategy" is really just common sense and reality.   Gingrich really has been an erratice, unreliable Washington insider for more than 30 years.   If Romney couldn't paint him with that brush, he'd have to be a truly incompetent politician.   And he's not.

2. And Mitt's Freddie Mac attack was deadlyRomney's biggest win was in the "Bain vs. Freddie" fight, says Alexander Burns at Politico. Mitt's lucrative career at Bain Capital was an albatross in South Carolina, but in Florida, about 75 percent view it positively versus 13 percent who view it negatively. And while Gingrich failed to make Bain an issue, Romney hammered him over his past consulting for Freddie Mac, blaming the federal mortgage giant....

RG:   Again, this is less of a strategic triumph than simply a triumph for reality.   There really is nothing wrong with Romney making a pile of money in the private sector.   That's a good thing.   But there really is something sick about a political culture where someone can get millions of dollars in "consulting" fees from a government-sponsored entity like Freddie Mac simply because that someone used to be in Congress.   Romney's millions from Bain are something to celebrate about the American Dream; Gingrich's millions from Freddie Mac are crony capitalism run amok.

3. Gingrich flubbed the debates"Newt also hasn't been helping himself," says Alexis Garcia at Pajamas Media. "After dominating the South Carolina debates," he "committed a series of unforced errors" in the two Florida debates, turning in lackluster performances and talking about moon colonies when voters care about jobs and houses. Romney also sharpened his debate game....

RG:  Well, maybe.   But a hard-right state like South Carolina was always going to be more susceptible to the kind of red meat Gingrich was serving there.   The rest of the country is going to vote on something other than how someone debates.   Republicans would have been making a huge mistake to nominate Gingrich out of some juvenile belief that he could defeat Obama in debates.   We're supposed to be smarter than that; we're supposed to be the party that doesn't vote for demagogues.  

4. Romney's surrogates carved up Newt"It shouldn’t be underestimated how much the Romney operation has managed to get into Gingrich's head," says Reid Epstein at Politico. The Romney team realized that direct attacks throw Newt off his game, so they sent their deep bench of prominent surrogates — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Reps. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño — to crash Gingrich rallies or attack him on the stump. Mitt even got some crucial "non-endorsement endorsements" from GOP heavy-hitters Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose "slapdowns of Gingrich's attacks" on Romney worked to Mitt's advantage.

RG:   Again, is this strategy, or just reality?   Significant players in the Republican Party don't like Gingrich and do like Romney.   Maybe that ought to tell us something.

5. The conservative media also ripped into NewtLast week was pile-on-Gingrich week in the conservative press — with a little help from the influential Drudge Report. In the National Review, The American Spectator, and other influential conservative publications, "Gingrich comes off looking like a dangerous, anti-Reagan, Clintonian fraud," say Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen at Politico. "It's as if the conservative media... decided Gingrich is for real, and they need to come clean about the man they really know before it's too late."

RG:   Again, smart people who've managed to make names for themselves as conservative commentators are attacking Gingrich.   Ought to tell you something.

6. Florida's elderly voters like Romney's family valuesThe "phenomenal shift in the polls" in Florida is actually pretty easy to explain, says Robert Stacy McCain at The Other McCain: "Your grandma loves Mitt Romney," and "there are lots of Republican grandmas in Florida." Romney is much better looking that Gingrich — "the tall, lean multimillionaire entrepreneur with dark hair and chiseled features" versus "the pudgy intellectual" — but his bigger selling point to grandma is his "old-fashioned 'family values' conservatism." When Romney talks about how he's still married to his high-school sweetheart, he doesn't even have to mention that "Newt is on Wife No. 3, with whom he had an affair while still married to Wife No. 2."

RG: As I've been saying for a couple of weeks, Gingrich might have a short shelf-life as the flavor of the week, but responsible adults at some point were always going to take a step back and ask themselves if they really want to nominate a man who's been married three times and who has two very public adulteries on his resume.  

The upshot:  Gingrich appears to be imploding, at least in Florida.   The question is whether, after Romney destroys Gingrich, will Santorum rise as the candidate of the anybody-but-Romney wing of the party?   Or will Romney simply coast to victory?  

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