Monday, November 14, 2011

Newt’s figment V: Newt reboots. Again

The Messiah Flava of the Moment Sweepstakes that has captivated the Republican Party for the last six months looks to be about to crown another winner of a million in prizes: Newton Leroy Gingrich, come on down!

The chaotic fluctuations of the 2012 GOP presidential field have  led to a rise in support for the ideological pit bull, former House Speaker and current Tiffany’s supershopper, who’s been languishing in fourth place or worse, but lately making a surge in opinion polls.

One reason: the long strange trip of Herman Cain is showing all the signs of coming to an end. The gospel-singing pizza king’s still-percolating problems concerning sexual harassment allegations, combined with debate outings that haven’t exactly wowed the faithful, are eroding his once double-digit lead over his challengers.

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Another reason for Newt’s rise in the polls originates with Newt himself. His recent debate performances — long on provocative soundbites, high-handed policy prescriptions and reflexive snarling at the media — have prompted Republicans to give Gingrich a second look, thinking that maybe, just maybe the party had found a red-meat hurler they can believe in.

In the CBS News poll released today, sampling Americans on who would best handle an international crisis, Gingrich led all comers with 31 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (19 percent) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with yet another third place finish (9 percent).

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of Republicans’ choice of a nominee puts Gingrich (with 22 percent) in a close second place behind Romney (with 24 percent). Given the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error, that’s effectively a tie. But what’s striking (and what should be worrying to Team Mitt) is the rate of climb for Gingrich, whose favorables jumped from 8 percent the month before.

And in a McClatchy/Marist poll of candidate preference released Friday, Gingrich (at 19 percent) was in a strong second place behind Romney (23 percent) — a showing well within the 5.5-point margin of error.

Unlike most of the others in the GOP nomination hunt, Gingrich has the virtue of being a known historical and political commodity. The public generally knows what Gingrich is about, for better or worse.

Newt has had three marriages and two divorces, and engaged in a messy extramarital affair at about the same time he was excoriating President Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky debacle. As the owner of enough personal baggage to fill an Amtrak train, Gingrich has issues that may not be ignored by conservative values voters — the kind that happen to live in Iowa.

There could be other problems for those voters. Back in May, Erick Erickson of told CNN that Gingrich’s conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholicism could create problems for him in Iowa — and in North Carolina and other Southern states where evangelicals are not to be taken lightly.

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But as the tag-team coronation of frontrunners has run its course, exhausted Republicans still seeking the anti-Romney are coming to Gingrich almost by default.

Whether he's got the juice to win in Iowa and beyond remains to be seen, but the candidate’s apparently up to the challenge. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, Major Garrett of National Journal said that the Gingrich campaign had just opened five offices in Iowa, the better to position himself for the caucuses set to start about 50 days from now.

The Des Moines Register reported that Gingrich would campaign in Iowa two days this week, and come back on Saturday to attend participate in the Family Leader Thanksgiving Family Forum.

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This is evidence of what the Gingrich brain trust characterized, in so many words as a relaunch of the Newt 2012 campaign. We’ve seen this movie before.

The Newt train’s wild ride started in early May with an erroneous announcement of the start of his presidential bid. The campaign’s launch had to be un-announced, then re-announced shortly after that.

(First there is a mountebank, then there is no mountebank, then there is.)

Gingrich formally announced the campaign on May 11, not in an outdoor setting amid supporters and the American flag, but in the comparatively airless setting of a YouTube video.

In the five weeks after that, Newt took a principled stand against the Paul Ryan budget plan; spent days walking back that renegade denunciation; clumsily handled the embarrassing revelation of a Tiffany’s bill somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000; spent eight whirlwind days pretending to campaign with brief stops in three battleground states; and then dashed off with wife Callista on a cruise to the Greek isles.

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It was all too much for Gingrich’s staff. Some 18 staff members, consultants and advisers bolted in June. All of his Iowa staff quit en masse; some went public about what they called a sloppy, indifferent approach to both campaigning and fundraising, and the high-bling Gingrich campaigning style, including the impolitic move of thundering into public appearances in a private jet.

Relaunch I went down in June, but by July, the Newt 2012 campaign reported $1 million of debt (how much of that could be offset by returning items to Tiffany’s hasn’t been determined).

Now, Relaunch II is well underway. Gingrich gave a preview of the new leaner, meaner Newt to come at Saturday’s debate at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina — one of those battleground states Gingrich needs for any serious bid at the nomination.

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He came out swinging. Discussing the fresh fears swirling around Washington over a nuclear-capable Iran, Newt lit into President Obama: “There are a number of ways to be smart about Iran, and a few ways to be stupid. The administration skipped all the ways to be smart,” he said, offering his solution to dealing with Tehran:

“First of all, maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable. Second, maximum coordination with the Israelis in a way which allows them to maximize their impact in Iran.”

Never mind that some or most of these ideas are already being entertained or implemented by the Obama administration; Gingrich did his best on Saturday to articulate the popular conservative rage for a querulous base of Republican voters, chucking raw national-security sirloin into the Spartanburg crowd — and getting the expected rapturous response.

That’s the Newt Gingrich we can count on. Despite his past support of such things as George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D (both vilified by conservatives), despite his well-documented personal failings, despite a staff largely populated by volunteers, the new Newt soldiers on, presumably ready to keep throwing rhetorical firebombs at the 11th candidates’ debate, set for Tuesday in Washington.

Image credits: Gingrich top: AP via CBS News. Marist Poll snapshot: Marist Institute. Gingrich lower: Fox News. 

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