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Mitt v. Newt: ’76, ’80 and ’92

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Who is better positioned to beat President Obama next fall?

That is the only question that matters for many voters as they consider Mitt Romney v. Newt Gingirch or any of the other GOP candidates.

Incumbents have been beaten three times in the past 50 years: Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford; Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter; and Bill Clinton sent George H.W. Bush back to Texas.

Carter, Reagan and Clinton had all been governors. All of them ran on the economy. All presented optimistic views of the future, and all were surrounded by superb teams of political strategists and supported on the long road to the White House by a spouse of great strength and commitment.

If winning is the only thing and history is a particular voter’s guide, Romney has an edge over Gingrich because of the time as governor and because his team is deep, experienced and extremely competent. Both Romney and Gingrich have wives of extraordinary strength, but the guide from history favors Romney on all of the other variables. The differences between the two men on matters of policy are not immense, though immigration threatens to again upend a candidacy (and not for what Newt said but for what it implied about opponents of his plans.) Victor Davis Hanson worries that Newt might implode at some point and that Romney is the “castor oil” candidate, but it looks like one or the other will be in the ring against President Obama. Who is likelier to emerge the winner?

This is the season in which politics recedes for a bit, breaking in only now and then between the football and the shopping, the celebrations and the food and most of all the family, but it is also a time for closing arguments in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two contests the results of which then bend the contests that follow. At the very start of that closing argument has to be: “I can beat a sitting president because….”


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