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The 2012 Speculatron Weekly Roundup For December 9, 2011

First Posted: 12/09/2011 4:44 pm   Updated: 02/08/2012 4:12 am

This week, we've learned something about what constitutes an existential dilemma for your elite GOP bigwigs. It seems that when they stare into a void, it is Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich who stare back. Lurking somewhere off in their peripheral vision, ominously, is Ron Paul, perhaps. But as this wide-open contest begins to crystallize into a two/three-man race, the discontent that the establishment GOP has felt has only grown more acute.

As described on these pages earlier this week, there are some who are trying to find a new investment in Jon Huntsman. And there's still talk of that candidate-to-be-named-later, who really, really should have been named much earlier, now that we're within a month of the Iowa Caucuses. Names like Giuliani, Daniels, Ryan, and even Trump continue to be bandied about as possible saviors. Trump will get a new chance in the spotlight when he hosts what was once thought of as a debate on December 27th. We say "once thought of" because most of the field have declined the invitation. So now, it looks more like "Donald Trump Date Night With Newt Gingrich, featuring Rick Santorum as 'the third wheel who doesn't want to see anything sexual happen.'"

Gingrich's improbable rise in the ranks has clearly caught Mitt Romney off guard. At one time, it really looked like Mitt was going to have a shot at a quick and dirty victory -- perhaps even a sweep of the early primary states. But Gingrich has been steadily drinking Mitt's milkshake in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, and he now poses a decent threat in New Hampshire. And he's done it all on the cheap.

Romney has weapons at his disposal, the three strongest of which are time, money, and campaign structure that's already sprawling across the primary map even as Gingrich gets his first-ever telephone installed in the Hawkeye State. He's also pulling in endorsements -- though this week's alliance with Dan Quayle doesn't quite carry the same heat as having Chris Christie in your corner. But now, Romney has to go on the attack, and that's going to be an interesting thing to watch, considering that most of the daggers you'd wield against Gingrich -- insufficient fealty to the conservative orthodoxy, a history of flip-flopping, questions about leadership -- are envenomed with the same poison that slays a Mitt Romney.

Gingrich's rise has Democrats feeling giddy. If they can't get matched up against Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich is, in their estimation, a more-than-desirable opponent to have at the top of the GOP ticket in 2012. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who hinted at her own trove of Gingrich grime, outsourced the quip responsibility to Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank: "I like Barney Frank's quote the best, where he said 'I never thought I'd live such a good life that I would see Newt Gingrich be the nominee of the Republican party.' ... That quote I think spoke for a lot of us."

But let's not speak too soon, and let's not get carried away. Our own Mark Blumenthal has been hunting down stats and performing focus-group augury and sees plenty of reasons to hold off on counting anyone in or out. Go read his most recent examination in its entirety, but the bottom line is this:

... for many Republicans, the race is narrowing to a choice between Gingrich and Romney, but it's a choice that often remains tenuous. According to Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport, 35 percent of Republicans on the same survey consider both Gingrich and Romney to be acceptable nominees, while 81 percent consider either candidate acceptable.

Last week, Peter Hart reflected on the fact that, while only two focus group participants walked in as Gingrich supporters, 7 were ready to vote for him on the way out. "Here we are a month away," Hart said. "Boy there's gonna be a lot of volatility."

Yeah, we can attest to that. This week, Ron Paul stepped up in his new role as attacker with a searing nastygram lobbed at Newt. Michele Bachmann, who considers Gingrich to be a "lobbyist," followed suit. But a Rick Perry grenade blew up in his face and exposed rifts in his campaign. Jon Huntsman undertook a makeover, Buddy Roemer drew new attention, Mitt Romney prepped to return to hostile territory, and you'll have to judge which candidate made a bigger mess of his "Plan B," by entering the Speculatron for the week of December 9, 2011.

Michele Bachmann
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Michele Bachmann continues to do what she can to rekindle the candidacy that peaked way too soon in Iowa, but the story isn't good. The Des Moines Register, which has been furtively tracking the candidates, notes that there is currently "more dissatisfaction with Michele Bachmann than with any other candidate actively competing in Iowa," and that "27 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers in Iowa say they would not support her if she were to be the nominee." Only Jon Huntsman does poorer in the latter statistical measure. In the meantime, her campaign memoir, "Core Of Conviction," will likely form the core of your local bookstore's remaindered section sometime soon -- in its first two weeks on the shelves, it's only sold 3,000 copies.

With the zero hour approaching and Iowa seen as a make-or-break state for her, Bachmann is running out of options to get her campaign back on track. One thing she wisely won't be doing is participating in Donald Trump's sham-debate -- Bachmann is the latest candidate to back out of the affair, leaving Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to fend for themselves.

Instead, she'll do what she can to attack her fellow GOP contenders, and hope for a boost from supporters of the now-concluded Herman Cain candidacy. Bachmann went especially hard at Gingrich this past Sunday as she made her way back to the weekend chat shows, calling Newt a "memory-challenged professor" and decrying him as a lobbyist. "His address is located on the Rodeo Drive of Washington: K Street," said Bachmann, in a pretty good line. Bachmann tells reporters that she still has a good chance to win in Iowa because of her rivals' "significant flaws."

"We're going to be shocked on Jan. 3 when we see the results" of the Iowa Caucuses, she says. That may be true, but in our most likely "those Iowa Caucuses sure were a shock" scenario, we have Ron Paul winning.

As far as her stump strategy, Bachmann continues to throw what she can at the wall to see what sticks. She won't be raising taxes on m... more
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