When your Speculatroners last had occasion to gather up all the campaign news of the week, the "Newtening" had just began, and we had our doubts that it would amount to very much. We figured that Romney wasn't worried about a cycle that had played out already three times -- a contender emerges, a contender collapses, the next to rise up does so on the ruin of past campaigns. Well, we spoke too soon. As of right now, Gingrich is polling very well in early states, and a key endorsement from the New Hampshire Union Leader has shaken Romney's Granite State garrison. And you know how everyone said Newt Gingrich's support would rise if Herman Cain's candidacy collapsed? Well...
Nevertheless, there's still a lot of uncertainty as to whether Gingrich can maintain his standing and avoid the fate of all the GOP candidates-turned-drummers for Spinal Tap that came before him. Gingrich, let's remember, still doesn't have the fundamental campaign infrastructure that you typically need to get from the Iowa Caucus to a national bid. Still, as Josh Marshall put it, with Newt, "it seems different; it feels different."
Want to know our theory behind Gingrich's recent rise? It's all in the timing. Newt's ascendance comes at the same time that families across America gathered together for Thanksgiving, and we think that Newt is reminding a lot of people about that cranky uncle that everyone sees once a year on Turkey Day. You know the guy. At dinner, he makes awkward political comments about how poor children have no work ethic and your public schoolteacher sister is a socialist. Pregnant pauses, nervous laughter, dad makes a fumbling segue to a new conversation, and you wonder why you agree to put up with the guy every year.
But then you remember that while you don't always agree with him, he does like all the same football teams as you. And he always gets the mashed potatoes just right. Plus, he knows how to keep all the little kids occupied with fun games right at the moment they're about to get stir crazy and keep you from getting your baste on. And in the light of the holiday, you remember that your weird uncle isn't such a bad guy, he has his charms and his qualities, and in the end, you're thankful to have him around.
Our guess is a lot of people happen to be relating to Newt in that way at this moment in time. But okay, if you want something rooted in sensible political science, here's HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal's assessment:
We should take the possibility of a Newt Gingrich nomination seriously because surveys are now telling us that both Republican voters and Republican party activists are taking it seriously. While Gingrich's position atop the national polls may be temporary, it is rooted in something more substantial than a recent spike in news coverage: Republicans see him as more experienced, qualified and intelligent, by a wide margin, than any of the other candidates running. That advantage is potentially huge given that experience and competence are qualities that voters usually treat as prerequisites for the highest office.
But let's not get carried away. The same voters also have doubts about Gingrich's character and his ability to win in November. He can turn the doubts about his viability around by winning in one of the early states, but remember, running for president is a huge enterprise, and Gingrich is reportedly depending on an almost skeletal national staff. Finally as Jon Ward and I reported, there is a long way between the early primaries in January and when Republicans start choosing delegates in big numbers in March and April.
Gingrich is likely to make the finals of the 2012 Republican nomination contest, but there is still a long way to go.
And lest you think that Gingrich is the only person who could make things interesting, let's keep Ron Paul in mind. On This Week two weekends ago, our ears pricked up when we heard Matthew Dowd say, "Of all the people that are in the top tier, [Paul] has the most passion behind his candidacy. I would not be surprised at all, seven weeks from now, that Ron Paul wins the Iowa caucuses and goes into New Hampshire and disrupts this field even more." His co-panelist Peggy Noonan sounded a similar refrain: "When you win Iowa, you go into New Hampshire with a certain amount of momentum. And no one has ever taken Ron Paul seriously. Therefore, when Iowa does, everybody will stop and say, 'What the heck?'" (Mark Blumenthal has further thoughts on what Paul can do, right here.)
So the forces that might shake Romney's sense of inevitability are gathering. Now, we get to see how things turn out, if Gingrich and Paul apply some pressure. For the rest of what happened this week on the campaign trail, please feel free to enter the speculatron for the week of December 2, 2011.
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