One general conclusion that can be drawn from the 2008 Democratic primaries is that Hilary Clinton made Barack Obama a stronger candidate going into the presidential election. Just prior to the primaries in 2008, Clinton had a double-digit lead over Obama, just like the one Newt Gingrich now has over Mitt Romney in some key states. But by the end of January of 2008, Obama had split the early primaries and was leading Hillary in delegate count. The rest, of course, is history.
Is it possible that scenario could repeat itself in this year’s Republican race, with Romney getting a second wind thanks to a long, drawn out struggle with a formidable rival? Romney’s people are starting to spin it that way, as Romney is suddenly becoming more aggressive and more accessible; the hope remains that Gingrich will implode over the course of a protracted race. (The Republicans have changed their rules about winning delegates since 2008 and it is likely that the GOP race will be a drawn out contest similar to the one the Democrats had in 2008. In fact, some are still holding out hope a new candidate will emerge later.)
Already, the old Newt is resurfacing as he gains in confidence. He recently pledged to name hawkish former UN ambassador John Bolton as Secretary of State. Given that the neo-conservative Bolton has said he would seriously consider the military option to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, I’m not sure that this was a reassuring move by Newt. In another familiar moment of self-congratulation on CNBC’s Kudlow Report, Gingrich claimed that the policies he pursued in his years in Congress contributed to making Mitt Romney a multi-millionaire.
Meanwhile, Romney’s campaign is attempting to draw distinctions between the candidates, most recently by refusing to participate in the Trump debate on December 27. But Romney appeared unsure about his own decision, blaming the cancellation on his “schedule.” It is conceivable Gingrich will become the lastest anybody-but-Romney candidate to fade away. But don’t bet on it. Romney’s position today is starkly different from Obama’s in 2008.
Unlike Obama back in 2008, Romney does not benefit from the likability factor with his party base. Secondly, Romney wasn’t just a candidate among many in the GOP race; he was the bonafide frontrunner until Gingrich’s surge. Finally, Gingrich has gained his momentum at a critical point in the race. With less than a month to go before the Iowa caucus, Romney is in a defensive mode.
Having seen the back-to-back performances of both Gingrich and Romney in front of the New Jersey GOP Jewish coalition this past Wednesday, it is evident Newt comes across as the more confident and polished performer. Romney seems uncertain, always trying to please his audience.
Of course, Romney knows the issues, has a respectable track record and does represent a more modern approach compared to Gingrich. However, it is becoming evident that his campaign has lost the sure footing it once had, and this is reflected in the candidate’s demeanour. Right now, the jury is still out on Romney and he is looking like anything but a presidential nominee.