THE STUMP DECEMBER 27, 2011
I was one of the quickest to write Gingrich off when he started losing altitude earlier this month. I still think he has almost no chance of winning the nomination. Given the distinct absence of a campaign apparatus, or really any trappings of a bona fide campaign, I think Newt’s only shot was to peak right before the Iowa caucuses and basically run the table. Unfortunately for him, he appears to have peaked too soon.
But, unfortunately for Mitt Romney and the anxious Republican establishment, he also appears to have flamed out too soon--which is to say, soon enough to give him time to recover a bit. If you look at the polling Nate Silver has synthesized on his excellent site, which takes us up to Christmas, Newt has basically stabilized himself in New Hampshire and South Carolina. More impressively, given the barrage of incoming he took there, Newt appears to have bottomed out in Iowa early last week and is enjoying a slight uptick in the state.
What accounts for Newt’s glimmer of life? My guess is that, while Republican voters don’t want him to be their nominee, they don’t want Romney to stroll to the nomination either. The week-and-a-half or so Newt spent in freefall gave them a chance to imagine the primaries playing out as a Romney coronation, and they didn’t find the scenario especially heartening. So just like Newt needed to peak within a day or two of Iowa to have a shot of winning, Romney probably needed Newt to flame out within a few days of Iowa to have a shot of wrapping this race up very quickly. Otherwise there was going to be too much time for buyer's remorse to set in toward Romney, as may be happening now.
On top of which, the media isn’t exactly keen to see this turn into a snoozer of a race. If there’s a chance Gingrich can stick around to make it interesting, he’ll have a real (if subconscious) cheering section among us campaign chroniclers. That’s got to be worth several points of popularity in itself.
Obviously, it’s a bit early to draw solid conclusions in this vein—we’ll know a bit more when the first batch of post-Christmas polling comes in later this week (which, among other things, will help us gauge the effect of Newt’s first foray into negative territory). But, at least as a psychological proposition for Republican voters, I can see why Newt may not be finished, even if he's not a major contender.
P.S. All of this is valid until tomorrow, of course, when I'll invoke my privileges as a blogger with a 12-hour memory and pronounce Newt dead all over again.