“I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re gonna find anybody who has more of those attributes than I do. I’ve been married to the same woman for 25 – excuse me, I’ll get in trouble, for 42 years. I’ve been in the same church my entire life.”
The days of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the inevitable Republican nominee are over. He’s not going to lie down without a fight, though, as this newest ad indicates. It’s a direct attack on former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is in his 3rd marriage, converted to Catholicism, and is known for changing his mind and flouting mainstream Republican thinking on a variety of topics, most recently immigration reform. Now the GOP presidential nomination battle is rattling to a loud climax as the two frontrunners rush to outdo the other before the January 3rd Iowa Caucus.
While Gingrich has to face accusations of corruption and capriciousness, the Romney campaign has long been plagued by a general lack of enthusiasm among the Republican Party’s dominant conservative core. Politico recently described the die-hard Romney supporters as a “political sasquatch,” while meanwhile a Republican insider joked that “Bigfoot dressed as a circus clown would have a better chance of beating President Obama than Newt Gingrich.”
At this rate, a blurry photo of a man in an ape suit could have been a Republican frontrunner. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) flopped after an early rise in the polls. Texas Governor Rick Perry babbled his way into ridicule. And most recently, after a meteoric rise former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain suspended his campaign following a slew of sexual harassment allegations and evidence of a 13-year affair. Cain, ever the ridiculous showman, ended his campaign by reading the lyrics to the Pokémon theme song, which he attributed to a “poet.”
But even before all this, the Gingrich nomination had seemingly collapsed under its own lack of substance. Gingrich staffers quit en masse in June over frustrations that he simply wasn’t taking the campaign seriously enough. Most analysts (myself included) had written him off. Amazingly, the speaker’s talent for wild unpredictability seems to have paid off: as of yesterday, he leads Romney 27-16 inIowa in the latest PPP poll. (Curiously, the unofficial media blackout on Ron Paul continues even as he polls consistently well, around 18%).
As liberal commentator Paul Waldman at The American Prospect incredulously stated, “Newt becoming the Republican Party’s nominee for president–an utterly absurd notion for every minute since it was first floated back in 1994 – could actually happen. Dear god.”
As his newest ad shows, Romney is ironically casting himself as the stable, consistent, family values nominee. Two months ago, who would have thought Romney, whose Mormon beliefs are the object of widespread hesitation on the right, would be marketing himself as the Republican party’s morality candidate? (And who could have thought Romney would be trying to do this by bringing up his church-attendance record?)
Unfortunately for the governor, this strategy is unlikely to work. Whatever Gingrich’s past sins, voters have had nearly 16 years to dwell on them, and his rise in the polls indicates they’re willing to forgive and forget if Gingrich can demonstrate he has turned a new leaf in his life. Meanwhile, conservative distrust of Romney is a recent phenomenon, and too deeply rooted to dispel in just one month. It won’t matter if the party apparatus is skeptical of Newt if he can hold the base.
There’s only one word for it: wow!
If Gingrich can manage not to make any major gaffes for just four more weeks, and convincingly defend himself against accusations of corruption and moral profligacy, he has a strong shot at the nomination. Knowing the Speaker, however, that could be a tall, tall order. The next month is going to be a wild ride.
Illustration Credit: DonkeyHotey