The basic story of the campaign season, if you've been absorbing the most conventional accounts from the most conventional media, is that Mitt Romney established himself early on as the candidate to beat. One by one, the other candidates have, in rapid succession, risen to the challenge but failed to surmount it. In that storyline, we've gone from Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to -- now -- Newt Gingrich. And the movement up and down for these various candidates has been chiefly the result of the sorts of crash-and-burn errors that the media dearly loves to report on, from Bachmann's HPV debacle to Perry's brain freezes to Cain's alleged sexual harassment of his subordinates.
Now, the media waits in wonder for the story to repeat itself with Gingrich. Sure enough, the first sign of his presumed decline came yesterday when Reuters reported that a University of Iowa poll suggested that Newt's "support could be slipping." It wasn't the most convincing poll in the world, for a variety of reasons related to timing and sample size that are too complicated to expound upon at length, but it nevertheless shot around the world on social media, as the political press geared up for another turn at the flame-out feeding frenzy. And as luck would have it, Public Policy Polling came out today with another set of numbers that suggested the same thing.
So who benefits if Gingrich fades in Iowa? Not so fast, everyone who just said, "Mitt Romney." Via PPP:
There has been some major movement in the Republican Presidential race in Iowa over the last week, with what was a 9 point lead for Newt Gingrich now all the way down to a single point. Gingrich is at 22% to 21% for [Ron] Paul with Mitt Romney at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry at 9%, Rick Santorum at 8%, Jon Huntsman at 5%, and Gary Johnson at 1%.
Oh, yeah! Ron Paul. Remember him? His basic story, if you've been absorbing the most conventional accounts from the most conventional media, is that Ron Paul doesn't...quite...exist. Paul's the candidate who has consistently gotten ten times the amount of support of the various candidates who get excluded from the debates, without getting much more in the way of press coverage. He consistently outperformed Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum, now has Bachmann and Perry envying his position, and yet, even as he's peaked, the disrespect continues. At the last debate, Paul received only about eleven minutes of time to answer 8 questions -- this despite the fact that he was entering the night at third place in the polls. (I think it took Diane Sawyer the same amount of time to actually pose the questions.)
But there are dissenters to the disrespect. Take Matt Dowd, who made a bold prediction on ABC's "This Week With Christiane Amanpour" some weeks ago that Paul was going to win the Iowa Caucuses. And if Dowd has it in him to make a casual $10,000 bet of his own, those PPP numbers must look awfully enticing:
Gingrich has dropped 5 points in the last week and he's also seen a significant decline in his favorability numbers. Last week he was at +31 (62/31) and he's now dropped 19 points to +12 (52/40). The attacks on him appear to be taking a heavy toll- his support with Tea Party voters has declined from 35% to 24%.
Of course, who's in Iowa working to drag Newt down? Paul, who has been running some scorching attack ads aimed at the former speaker. Of course, the conventional wisdom is that going negative drags down the attacker behind the attackee, but in Paul's case, this does not appear to be happening:
Paul meanwhile has seen a big increase in his popularity from +14 (52/38) to +30 (61/31). There are a lot of parallels between Paul's strength in Iowa and Barack Obama's in 2008- he's doing well with new voters, young voters, and non-Republican voters.
Young voters, independents, and folks who haven't voted in caucuses before is an unusual coalition for a Republican candidate...the big question is whether these folks will really come out and vote...if they do, we could be in for a big upset.
And this is key: "Paul's supporters are considerably more committed to him than Gingrich's are. 77% of current Paul voters say they're definitely going to vote for him, compared to only 54% for Gingrich."
So keep that in mind as you read the way this Paul surge is captured and the way the candidate himself is treated. Most tend to frame Paul as the guy who's going to bail out Mitt Romney -- here's Time's Adam Sorenson, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, and our own Sam Stein playing it that way.
But that's not nearly as frustrating to Paul supporters as the way their man was treated on "Meet The Press" last Sunday, when David Gregory plied Ron Paul with question after question about ... Newt Gingrich. And Mitt Romney. What did Paul think of those guys? Who could he get behind as a GOP nominee? I thought it was a "journalistic failure." Jon Stewart was less polite, quipping, "Hey, would you like to go out Saturday night? I know this quiet little place where we can talk which one of your friends I want to f--k."
Naturally, Ron Paul's bid in Iowa faces significant challenges. Much depends on what happens to Gingrich and Romney, and whether or not Paul's coalition can outnumber those two candidates' own constituents on January 3rd. And for Paul, the Iowa Caucus is not just a chance to earn delegates -- it's the acid test for both his ideas and his organization's vaunted mettle. But if you like to see the media's conventional narratives shattered, there's probably a part of you that wouldn't mind seeing Paul prevail.
[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]