In case you haven't heard, this was the week the "Newtening" began. Months ago, Newt Gingrich was more or less left for dead -- his campaign in debt, his staff long gone, his prospects for mounting a serious campaign in the toilet. But this is the year that the dead keep on walking, mainly from one debate appearance to another, shambling around in a season where no goner ever quite gets gone, and the undercurrent of antipathy to Mitt Romney has everyone running from one of this year's models to the other, to kick the tires. They sampled that loud muscle car from Texas. Then they took a look at that Caddy with the "black walnut" finish. Now, they may as well take that old throwback sedan -- the one with a backseat big enough to maybe test out a new wife or two -- for a spin. Anything to keep from having to drive that family wagon with the vague stench of terrified dog.
Gingrich has soared in the polls of late. In some, he's claimed the top spot. In all, he's back in the mix. And Iowa is looking like it could be ripe for the taking. There was a brief period where Mitt Romney, who began the campaign knowing he didn't need to win in Iowa to claim his party's nomination, was looking like he might make a go of it -- if his competitors' support broke just right, he might have been able to steal the state. And then his coronation was all but a done deal, as the primary calendar had basically aligned to his advantage. But Newt's sudden strength has Romney backing away, once again setting expectations downward.
But do you think that Romney's all that worried about Newt Gingrich? We'll tell you straight up: he's not. We'd be surprised if the Romney campaign has spent a single dollar developing an opposition strategy to Gingrich. Part of the reason is that with Gingrich, the attack ads practically write themselves: there's the serial infidelity, the long history of clashes with party elites, his declaration that Paul Ryan's budget plan was "right wing social engineering," his even more recent incoherence on Libya, the vacations, the Tiffany account, the idea that he has become the anthropomorphic ideal of effete condescension. And, of course, there are the fundamentals: his campaign debt, his thin staff, and the fact that he's mainly campaigning at book signing events at airport hotels.
But the biggest reason Romney doesn't fear Gingrich is that he knows Gingrich didn't earn his way back into the top tier because of anything he did. Gingrich, let's face it, has fallen upward. He's the "Hudsucker Proxy." Gingrich's successes are solely founded on the fact that Herman Cain failed to exploit Rick Perry's failure to exploit Michele Bachmann's failure. Outside of Gingrich being the next in line to inherit the ruin of those who came before him, there's no there there, as they say. And now Gingrich is being dogged by his past affiliation with Freddie Mac, and the fat bankroll he received to give the now-roundly despised organization positive acclamations to his fellow Republicans. If the GOP is looking for a guy who'll slash and burn the budget and punish the party's bugbears, Gingrich hardly comes off as the solution to the problem. He looks like the cause.
Mitt Romney likely believes that all he needs to do is pop some corn and watch Gingrich fade from view. He's sure acting like he's won the primary and Obama is his opponent -- and this week's Romney-Obama FOIA war indicated that Obama thinks Romney's won it too. Maybe Romney will come to lament this. Maybe Gingrich somehow gets over. But if you look at the way this primary season has run, as Mark Blumenthal has, you'd know that there's a clear driver goosing all of the not-Romneys' fortunes this year -- news coverage. And the way it's run is that positive press precedes the build-up, and negative press follows the peak. With Newt's Freddie Mac story all over the news, he could be in for the same ride.
But that's not all that went down on the campaign trail this week. Herman Cain spent all week firing one round after another into his feet. Michele Bachmann got dissed by CBS News, but couldn't get many supporters to care. Rick Perry, playing what one scribe called a game of "Hail Mary," made an odd debate request. Gary Johnson lost his staff, Buddy Roemer found his calling, Ron Paul gained a new sign of life, and in the opinion of one MIT professor, one of these candidates is "lying" about the "f--king bill" that was once the centerpiece of his political portfolio. For all of this and more, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of Nov. 18, 2011.
[Programming note: There will be no 2012 Speculatron round-up next Friday. A Happy Thanksgiving Holiday to everyone!]