I found Newt's victory last night in the South Carolina primary quite surprising. Even after reports started coming in early in the day that Newt had strong support, I still didn't believe it would make much of a difference. Like CNN columnist, John Avlon, I assumed Mitt was inevitable and Newt is too risky and ultimately not realistic. I still believe this, but I love that GOP voters are willing to make a statement and take a risk. It's nice to see voters willing to take a risk because it makes politics and life more interesting. There's no question Newt is risky - his personal character is an issue, his ability to harness his abstract policy ideas into practical solutions and his ability (physical and political) to go toe-to-toe with Obama in the general. Mitt, once seen as the only real option, is now probably just the only option. Not strong.
Avlon correctly notes: "This not only turns the Romney campaign's electability narrative on its head, it's got to be making the Obama camp in Chicago smile, looking at a long GOP nomination fight ahead."
Although, I'm not sure I agree with Avlon on this: "The state of the race has fundamentally changed in the course of one dizzying week."
I still think Romney is the strongest candidate and will probably weather this "late" storm to capture the nomination. By March 1st, this race will look completely different and will be all but over. Advantage Romney. Yet Gingrich capitalized on the anti-rich fervor of the last week and stoked the fire with his own strategery calling Mitt a "Massachusetts Moderate." Always useful in a primary.
No question Newt has tactical skill and makes for great television. Perhaps that's why Avlon and others keep him in the headlines giving fodder to the 24/7 news cycle. Or perhaps, as Avlon notes, he just wants to see more Republican voters have a chance to weigh in on the nominee. Either way, Newt's megaphone got bigger last night and the primary will remain competitive for at least another 30 days if not more.
I'm interesting in thinking more about a possible Gingrich campaign - how can he reach voters? how will he match up against Obama? who would be his VP choice? He creates a visual contrast to Obama that is not flattering to GOP or Newt, but he's a fascinating thinker, to be sure.
For a party that's nervous about Obama's ideology, it doesn't get much more inside Washington than Gingrich. That means the GOP leadership would be Gingrich, McConnell, and Boehner. Combined that's almost 250 years of Washington experience. Republicans have always been much more comfortable playing politics and using purely political means to achieve their ends so perhaps the Old Guard doesn't bother them, but it bothers me. To have voters complaining about stalemates in Washington and uselessness of Congress, seems odd to support a man who embodies Congress.
If Gingrich gets the nomination, can we change the name to OGP? Old Guard Party. I mean, Romney clearly doesn't understand what its like to be a working class or middle class American, but at least he's got the perspective of an entrepreneur and former governor. A Republican governor of Massachusetts, no less. So, he's had to be a bit more practical than Gingrich, if nothing else. But, I digress, I'll save my analysis of Romney's "everyman" problem for tomorrow.