Wonder how a thrice-married former Speaker with political baggage can beat a clean-cut Mormon with years of presidential campaigning on his belt? Through improving the political formula for a better mouse trap.
After seeing deep fried butter eaten in Iowa, political candidates twirling this past summer, and a the “Black Walnut” candidate that never goes out of style, those watching the ongoing developments of the GOP presidential field for 2012 have gotten quite used to the term: “flavor of the week.”
Dr. Jason Johnson got it right: we are past that point of time now. Newt Gingrich is not the latest “anybody but Romney” favorite. Rather, he is the GOP front-runner that is extending his leads over Romney and others to a point where this process might be practically over after the Florida primary should Gingrich continue his quality debate and campaign performances. While it may surprise some that Gingrich – the outsider candidate – has been criticized as being a re-tread insider from the 1990s with a record of questionable and moderate-leaning moves, it is truly not much of a shock.
Not when you consider that the Republican candidate initially thought to have the best chance to beat President Obama in 2012 is now getting beaten at his own game by Mr. Gingrich.
If Newt is responsible for stealing Romney’s thunder, he did so through combining two messages implied in polling: conservatives want a candidate that has the acumen and track record of rallying Republicans in a meaningful way to the polls but can also significantly challenge President Obama at his own game in battleground states come 2012.
This act of balancing the two is something that Mitt Romney counted on – the “Romney Formula” for winning in 2012 after the hard-core conservatives pounded themselves into electoral submission and ineffectiveness. Despite Romney using this formula to procure early leads, recent polling by Quinnipiac University suggests that Gingrich may soon become the runaway candidate and presumptive nominee before March. The former Speaker has jumped to huge leads in the initial GOP primary states while chipping into the president’s leads in important swing states in head to head polling.
But how is this so?
It’s simple: Gingrich is pulling off this double play better than Romney ever could.
Newt’s moderate-leaning (or, at the very least, moderate-sounding) positions on illegal immigration (voiced in the last debate), along with previous positions on global warming and other legislative items shared with fellow Speaker Nancy Pelosi, show independent voters that he might be the conservative candidate in 2012, but he is not “off the rails” with partisanship as Tea Party favorites such as Caucus-leader Bachmann and Cain might be in the White House. That should give moderate voters pause while they decide whether to recommit to a president that has overseen historic unemployment rates for the duration of this tenure, even if Newt’s moderate record gives far-right conservatives some heartburn. For hardcore Republicans and conservatives, Newt’s past leadership in rallying the cause for balanced budgets and his bravado for defending the Republican brand against the media in the early presidential debates recently should be plenty to fortify his position as the firebrand for their movement in 2012.
Mr. Gingrich has excelled at both sides of the Romney Formula better than Romney himself, communicating on both fronts with superior articulation of philosophical and practical issues, even when held at a disadvantage during the debates and the early campaign season. Despite having both a 5-year-old presidential campaign infrastructure and rock-steady mid-20s polling support, former Governor Romney has not been able to lock up the 2012 GOP race with the “Romney Formula,” a method that Mitt should have mastered by this point: displaying that he is both conservative enough to be the GOP nominee and electable enough to the masses to be the president starting in 2013.
While lingering in the low single digits of polling, Gingrich tweaked the Romney Formula and has put it to great use recently. New polling suggests that he is succeeding in convincing voters on both fronts. While Newt has taken this formula to new heights, Romney has betrayed his own model by practically conceding the point on conservatism (evidenced by his apparent lack of interest in Iowa and focus on South Carolina) while banking almost exclusively on the electability point.
In a race where an unknown pizza executive can lead the pack on the strength of one catch-phrase idea and a well-funded Texas governor can slip into political oblivion, there was too much time left in the process for Mitt to ignore both sides of the Romney Formula. Romney counted on the constant of his steady polling, but is now getting blown away by not taking into consideration the variable he created himself – that “it” factor of balance that attracts the political middle and does not scare off the right to create a potent mix in November 2012.
Mr. Gingrich’s name may end up being at the top of the ticket come summer 2012, but just know that if it does, it will be there because the Speaker figured out the way to out-Romney Mitt for the nomination.
Lenny McAllister is a political commentator found every Saturday with host TJ Holmes and fellow pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 AM Pacific.) He will also appear on “CNN Newsroom” this Sunday at 6:15 PM (5:15 PM Central / 3:15 PM Pacific). This week’s “Saturday Remix” is available exclusively on Politic365.