The Monday column from Clark Judge:
Gingrich and The Logic of the 2012 Race
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute
All of a sudden, Newt Gingrich is the talk of the GOP presidential contest. A story anticipating his resurgence ran on the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post. This was not too many days after Weekly Standard editor William Kristol first suggested that the former speaker of the House might be getting a second look from Republican primary voters.
What’s going on here? Wasn’t Gingrich left for politically dead when his staff walked out in June? And in the last few weeks haven’t the major media all but anointed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as the inevitable Republican pick?
But Romney has problems. All year the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls has pegged him the pick of 20 to 25 percent of Republican primary voters, never less, never more. Recently some polls have shown him the second choice of a large number of Republicans. If correct, Romney should start to surge after Iowa.
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Several of weakest candidates will drop out following the Iowa caucuses. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman are prime prospects to head for the exits. They are simply not catching fire – or even showing glowing embers. Someplace between Iowa and South Carolina, each will have to face that 2012 will not be their year. Even if they don’t face it, their donors and supporters will. If those backers move in numbers to Romney (you’ll know it’s started if his GOP support in the polls breaks 30 percent), Romney will be the nominee.
But if his support stays locked at 25 percent or less, look for Gingrich to move up. Grasping why many expect his support to rocket doesn’t require rocket science.
Divided in this election cycle less by policy preferences than stylistic ones, GOP voters are falling into two clusters reminiscent of a generation ago. One looks a lot like George H.W. Bush’s 1980 primary backers and has gone to Romney. The other looks like Ronald Reagan’s in the same year. It is still shopping.
So far in 2011, these people have flirted with Bachman, left her for Perry, then in large measure left Perry for Cain. They are searching for a leader with the clarity to define an agenda for cutting federal spending and regulation and making the tax system more friendly to economic growth — and the strength to see it through. Perry is strong willed, but his debate performances have raised doubts about his overall abilities. Many see Cain as that leader.
Many, but far from most – and, like Romney, Cain may have reached the limits of his support. His problem is not Karl Rove’s white board detailing his errors on the stump and in debates (although the ad in which his campaign manager smokes could define his campaign as terminally bungling). Nor is it this morning’s allegations of sexual harassment while heading the National Restaurant Association. A brief critique at RealClearPolitics.com (http://tinyurl.com/3olpdy8) finds the stories “not well sourced” and concerning gestures “that weren’t sexual in nature,” a media hit job. Rather Cain’s problem is history: every president ever elected has served as a vice president, senator, governor, congressman, cabinet secretary, or general. Cain has not.
With dangers gathering overseas, a global debt crisis and the economy still effectively in a deep recession, how likely is it that the party will tap a political first-timer for the White House? The Democrats did that in 2008. It is an open secret in Washington that many leading Democrats now believe the president is not up to the job. He is intelligent, they acknowledge, but entered office with far too little experience, and it continues to show, badly.
Yes, Perry is struggling to recover his early magic. But many GOP voters are wary — and now he says he will be ducking at least half of the coming debates. That is not the road to recovery.
So who in the GOP field has the intellect that many now feel Perry lacks and the experience that Cain needs? Romney? Yes, whatever else you think of him, he clearly has both. Anyone else? Gingrich.
Here is the fact about all the Gingrich talk. It rests on the logic of the race, on plotting coming moves on the political chessboard. Beset by inherent weaknesses, Romney and Cain (RealClearPolitics.com shows them statistically tied) look like candidates who may have topped out. If so, in the rest of the field, only Gingrich is positioned to take up the slack.
This race is just starting.