So, yeah, this campaign season is getting ridiculous. Credit the candidates, we guess! From one week to the next, we have seen the race seesaw between these four candidates we are left with -- some winning primaries, others winning bragging rights -- as the lesser lights of the GOP field have faded away. But this week, the seesaw became a whipsaw as Newt Gingrich went from standing proud to stumbling in a matter of days.
The alacrity of how the race at the top flipped was pretty staggering. In South Carolina, Gingrich hadn't merely grabbed the affection of South Carolina voters. He successfully made Romney look timid. When the two candidates found themselves coincidentally booked for appearances at the same eatery, Gingrich -- who at the time didn't need to do any more work to win the primary -- suggested that the two men have an impromptu debate. That put the fear in Romney -- he rushed through his appearance and skedaddled like Gingrich was going to snatch his lunch money.
And in a way, that's what Gingrich had been trying to do all week. Mitt's hesitancy to release his tax returns became the key issue on the trail, and as Romney bumbled his way through the week, South Carolina voters smelled a phony.
But over the next few days, Romney regrouped and put Gingrich back on his heels. To be sure, Romney outspent Gingrich by the length of Interstate 4. But what really helped is that the GOP establishment, concerned that Gingrich might prevail and become the party's nominee, once again unleashed the forces of darkness. Dredging up criticism and ridicule, Gingrich came to Thursday night's debate with his mojo tapped. His attempts to recreate some of that blame-the-media outrage fell embarrassingly flat.
Now, Mitt Romney is surging in Florida, and along with that comes the ability reclaim that mantle of inevitability. And if you watched the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama's opening salvo in the campaign season, you can see who he's imagining as his opponent. We'll briefly summarize the address: "Hi. I killed Osama bin Laden, this Congress is obstructing me at every turn, Mitt Romney is wrong about everything, Seal Team Six, I'm out." It was pretty clear that the only reason he had to take Gingrich seriously was as the guy who helpfully framed the Democratic argument against Mitt in the first place.
But can Obama take the Gingrich playbook and run it himself? The folks over at 1115.org are skeptical:
Despite the attention it is getting now, Mitt’s status as a businessman will not hurt as much as some think. Certainly, the narrative of Mitt Romney as a 1%er will be good for energizing Democrats, but Romney does not need to win Democrats. As always, the election will hinge on each candidate’s ability to attract moderates/independents. His involvement with Mass. health care and Obamacare only makes him seem more moderate, and the big opportunity for that to hurt him (the primary) has since passed without great consequence. His income tax rate, which is a result of his semiretirement and reliance on capital gains, is an overblown non issue (although capital gains tax in general might enter as a liberal talking points). In general, attacks on Romney as a businessman have not and will not land.
There's a lot at stake in next week's primary -- for everyone except Ron Paul, who isn't trying to win Florida and who spent large portions of the week shoring up his effort in the caucus states to come. If Romney wins, the cash that's been keeping Gingrich afloat may dry up. If Gingrich wins, you can expect the GOP establishment to fly into a berserker rage. And if Santorum doesn't manage a strong enough finish, he may come to the end of the line. And how things end up next Tuesday may become frozen in time -- it's a long, lonely month between now and Super Tuesday. For all the news you need to know for now, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for Jan. 27, 2012.
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