Saturday, February 4, 2012

Newt doubles down in Nevada

The Nevada caucus came off today more or less as expected; it was Mitt Romney’s second straight win and, as such, more reason for the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign to start crowing about his inevitability again. For other challengers for the nomination, the way forward is hard to see. Just don’t tell Newt Gingrich.

For the former House Speaker, it’s personal. Correction: it’s been a personal matter for some time now, with Newt grousing long and hard about negative Romney SuperPAC ads used against him in previous primary contests. Now it’s even more so.

You could see that today, in the wake of a drubbing at the hands of Romney to the tune of 29 percentage points. In a news conference at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Newt Gingrich engaged in that storied action of the last-ditch gambler: doubling down on the bet he’s already made.

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In that newser, Newt returned to form: typically combative, prickly, even combative with the media as he said there was no quit in him. “We will go to Tampa,” he said, reaffirming his blood-oath vow to stay in the race for the nomination. “We intend to complete in every state in the country,” he said. “There are underlying factors in this race, and I’m quite happy to continue campaigning. …

“I think there’s a clear contrast,” he said of political distinctions between he and Romney. “I think that the clear contrast is really important. And I think that over time, we’re gonna drive home that clear contrast in a way which will be enormously to his disadvantage.”

That’s Newt Gingrich’s way of saying that, as the primary process unfurls between now and March 6, Super Tuesday, he intends to do what he can, whatever he can, to run up the delegate counts in states thought to be more in his social and political orbit (read: states in the South), and do his utmost to bloody the patrician head of Mitt Romney by any means necessary.

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This, of course, includes the ritual Newt accusation that Romney is a “pro-abortion, pro-gun control, George Soros-approved Massachusetts moderate.” George Soros filled in for Saul Alinsky, who apparently got the night off.

It’s hard to say which trait is worst, Gingrich’s barely contained outrage or his equally barely-contained desperation and a willingness to try anything. It didn’t escape the attention, for example, when Newt announced the stealing a march on the viral crowdsourcing approach to campaign fundraising successfully used by Team Obama in 2008.

“We have over 160,000 donors, 97 percent of whom have given less than $250,” Gingrich said today. “We have an obligation to them to stand up for their values …”

Whichever trait dominates in the Gingrich psyche doesn’t really matter. They’re both equally the evidence of a man in love with the politics of scorched earth, even if the earth being scorched is his own.

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Gingrich has also doubled down on his faith in a singular, unalloyed brand of Reagan-era conservatism that he and others believe is deeply muddied and compromised by the man from the Republic of Massachusetts. It’s this conservatism he says he’s fighting for.

Newt Gingrich has as much as told us he’d rather stand for something than fall for anything, and he’s apparently willing to live by that rule from now until March 6. At least. With any future coin from his one-time benefactor, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, possibly in question, Newt will leave no couch cushion unturned in that pursuit.

Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger and founder of Red State, defined some of the coming battle for CNN on Saturday night: “This is Mitt Romney’s worst nightmare. You have a candidate who is conveying that he would rather beat Mitt Romney than be president of the United States, and there are a majority of Republicans still who agree with him on that.”

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In some ways, the timing of Gingrich’s latest defeat in the primary season couldn’t be better for him. February is shaping up to be a relatively quiet month; only one debate is planned, for the 22nd; and caucuses in Maine, Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri are expected to be low-hanging fruit for Texas Rep. Ron Paul (Maine) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (maybe two of the other three states).

Gingrich, who didn’t get on the ballot in Missouri, is keeping his powder dry (what there is of it) until that debate and the regional prizes of Super Tuesday: Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee. A week later, Alabama and Mississippi may help him, too.

All of which is a good thing. February, the shortest month (even this year’s leap-year model of 29 days) is for most of the Republican candidates a long month too, with relatively fewer of the scheduled fireworks that occurred in January. For Gingrich, that should mean laying low, regrouping to figure his next attack ... and plotting his next course through the water he used to be so comfortable in back in the day, back when his dorsal fin was a more fearsome thing to behold.

Newt Gingrich intends to return to that mode of political warfare again, having no other options, and apparently wanting none beyond the satisfaction of a vengeance. He’s doing whatever he can to keep this from being Newt History Month. He’s quite happy to continue campaigning. It’s on to Super Tuesday. There is no reverse gear for a shark.

Image credits: Gingrich: CNN. GOP primary calendar map: Wikipedia.

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