First, there was Donald Trump. Then came Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain. Later, there was Rick Perry, and now Newt Gingrich. Through it all, support for Mitt Romney has been steady and he continues to do well in a matchup against President Obama. But the picture could soon be changing as we near caucus and primary season. Late challenges can be hazardous to a consistent frontrunner if he fails to develop traction, as seems to be the case with Romney.
With Herman Cain dropping out (‘suspending’ is a misnomer) and expected to endorse a former rival (Newt?), it is now clear that Mitt Romney will face another big challenge for the nomination. Unlike Trump, Cain, Perry, and Bachman, who were weak contenders, Gingrich is a force. He is experienced, occasionally ruthless, and appears much stronger on policy matters than Romney.
Gingrich is currently leading in Iowa and second in New Hampshire, where he could close the gap with a victory in Iowa. He is also leading in both South Carolina and Florida. Should these poll results translate into actual votes for Gingrich in the early stages of the primary, Romney will have difficulty recovering.
Romney has decided advantages when it comes to money and on-the-ground organization, however Gingrich has shown greater acumen in defending and debating his policies. His openness to some form of limited amnesty for illegal immigrants was supposed to be his undoing, but the backlash has yet to take place. Romney seems to have become rattled by Gingrich if one judges by a recent interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, where he was on the defensive and ineffective in explaining his numerous flip flops of recent years.
What is amazing is Gingrich’s comeback from near-extinction. Here is a man with acknowledged major liabilities: policy flip flops, staff resignations, questionable business dealings and, at best, a double standard on issues of personal conduct. Gingrich has even had to resign in disgrace from the position he cherished most—Speaker of the House. He is clearly the candidate Obama would prefer over Romney. That in itself should stall his campaign. But it has not even been part of the conversation.
The reason for this has a lot to do with Romney’s inability to generate much enthusiasm for his candidacy beyond a steady base with about 20-25 per cent. His campaign has so far failed to introduce him as a person. Campaigns are not just about policy differences; they are about character. Yet for some reason, the Romney campaign prefers to present their candidate as a policy person competing for the various constituencies of the GOP—the Tea Party, social conservatives, etc.—and forcing him to hide the very achievements that would show his skills and his values as a political leader. Strangely, he rarely lauds his political record as governor of Massachusetts. He prefers to talk about his performance in the private sector, which will inevitably be the subject of debate as the campaign moves forward.
Gingich has cleverly attacked Washington as most of his fellow candidates do, yet points to his so-called successes in government. He attempts to come across as a serious content candidate, with government experience and conservative policies.
But when one examines Gingrich’s real record, which includes setbacks such as the government shutdown in 1995 and his forced resignation as Speaker in 1998, it’s Romney who should have the upper hand. Gingrich should come across as yesterday’s man. The fact that ‘s not happening is why Gingrich is a real threat to Romney.
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