There are two ways of winning moderates. The first is to pose as a moderate – but in doing so, you risk losing your base (see McCain, John). The second is to run as a reasonable conservative, but portray your opponent as a vastly radical liberal (see Reagan, Ronald). The better strategy, obviously, is the Reagan strategy.
Who is more equipped to pursue that strategy, Mitt or Newt? Mitt can’t earn the trust of conservatives. The Republican establishment’s endorsement of him actually hurt him here – conservatives don’t trust the establishment, especially when they’re busily redefining conservatism to embrace Romney’s moderate Massachusetts record. And Mitt hasn’t done himself any favors by clinging to Romneycare with the addictive ardor of the true narcissist, or by disassociating himself from the Tea Party.
Newt, by contrast, has made plenty of mistakes – but he’s smart enough to apologize for them. He’s never run from the Tea Party. There’s a reason that Tea Partiers are rallying behind him, too – this was the man who led the Republican Revolution of 1994. No matter how loud commentators scream that Mitt is more conservative than Newt, nobody believes them for one reason: he isn’t.
The proof’s in the pudding: in South Carolina, Newt won virtually every group, with record voter turnout. Romney got smashed among conservatives and independents. Is there anyone who seriously thinks that Romney will get better conservative turnout than Newt would?
So can Newt get one out of three moderate voters? You bet he can. He has the strongest voter outreach to Hispanics; he’s got heavy appeal to pro-Israel Jews. He is spending his time portraying Obama as a radical – and with labels like “Food Stamp President,” he’s succeeding.
But what about approval ratings? Romney advocates have been pushing the fact that Gingrich’s favorability is in the toilet – which it is. A few months back, his favorability was 32% vs. 43% unfavorable; now, it’s 51% unfavorable to 29% favorable. But Romney’s not much better off. His favorability ratings are now down to 31%, with unfavorables at 49%.
Some have argued that Romney has the capacity to bounce back from such numbers. Yet Romney has shown over and over that the more people see him, the more they dislike him. He’s been on the national stage for seven years now. He’s never going to be supremely popular. And his stability means that he’s not likely to change that anytime in the near future.
In any case, favorability ratings generally don’t matter in presidential elections. Bush’s favorability ratings were disastrous in 2004; he won anyway. People might like Mitt Romney – but they’ll like him even as they pull the lever for Obama. People might dislike Newt Gingrich – but by the time Gingrich is finished with Obama, they might like the idea of a continued Obama presidency even less. If this campaign is going to be run on personal favorability, Obama will win in a walk in either case – personality is the only aspect of Obama that people can stand.
(3) Personality. The last vestige of the Romney campaign has now been risked on characterizing Newt Gingrich as a “zany” candidate, a representative of the Loony Tunes contingent. “With Newt Gingrich, it is an October surprise everyday,” says Romney.
It’s true that Newt has the capacity to blow up at any time. But he also has the capacity to come back from blowing himself up. He’s the zombie candidate. You cannot put him down. He was destroyed in Iowa. He was destroyed in New Hampshire. He’s about to win South Carolina and Florida.
That’s the risk and the reward of Newt. His brilliance means that he has the ability to inspire. It also means he can say things that leave you scratching your head. By and large, Newt is capable of adjusting on the fly, however. He does not go down for the count.
Romney, by contrast, is uninspiring where Newt is passionate. He comes off as inauthentic, perhaps even insincere. He’s stable. He doesn’t know how to shift his campaign on a dime and counterpunch. He’s been running since the Bee Gees were on the singles charts, and he still doesn’t know how to respond to attacks on Romneycare and Bain Capital. This is not the mark of a good campaigner.
Ann Coulter recently called Gingrich “our Clinton.” Blogger Melissa Clouthier responded, “Romney is our Gore.” Both are exactly right. Clinton may have been volatile, but there’s no question he was a knife fighter in a campaign. Gore was the opposite. Who won, and who lost?
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