Newt Gingrich, convinced as ever of his own world-historical importance, must be grinning today as he looks at a new poll showing him up by 14 points in Iowa. After all, he had been written off by nearly everyone only a few weeks ago, and his ground operation in the state remains pretty threadbare. Does Newt’s recent surge signal the end of the GOP primary race?
A 2007 paper suggests that a last-minute realignment of GOP allegiances could have outsized impact. A review of primary winners shows that while Democratic candidates tend to slug it out over the course of the primary elections, Republicans tend to decide on a candidate in the “invisible primary” before Iowa and New Hampshire. Historically, that candidate has become the nominee. In fact, the paper notes, the candidate around whom “Republican elites” have rallied “very early on […] has become the nominee in every open Republican nomination since 1972.” In the 2012 primary race, this finding must be issued with a caveat: Republican elites have not rallied around Gingrich, and the party’s internal divide right now makes predictions even more difficult than usual. (And with a candidate as prone to implosion as Gingrich, a lot could happen before Iowa voters go to the polls next month.) Still, the study suggests that Newt’s rise could have some staying power—another twist in a GOP primary race that keeps getting more bizarre.