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December 01, 2011

Romney Campaign Unprepared For Gingrich; Still Fretting Perry (Though Honestly, They Really Shouldn't Be)

Mitt Romney's campaign has been caught flat-footed by Gingrich's super surge, which is really not a reason to go all Nelson Muntz on them, because it really was a pretty unexpected event.

I mean, does everyone remember Gingrich's press release after the "Rightwing social engineering" fiasco?

All along, everything has gone according to Mitt Romney’s plan. His strategists didn’t believe that Tim Pawlenty would catch on. They were confident that Michele Bachmann would fade. They were prepared for Rick Perry. They never thought Herman Cain would pass the commander in chief test.

But they didn’t count on a late and strong rise by Newt Gingrich.

Once left for dead, the former House speaker has suddenly emerged as Romney’s most durable opponent yet — in part because he has performed well in the debates and, unlike the others, he is viewed by many in the Republican Party as a plausible president.

For this unexpected turn in what has been a steady and sure campaign, the Romney team has no road map. With just five weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the former Massachusetts governor and his advisers are trying to figure out what to do. Will they stick to their tried-and-true playbook and hope Gingrich falls on his own, just like the others? Or will Romney engage Gingrich directly and aggressively, either through ads or in a pair of upcoming debates?

“Is there enough time for Gingrich to self-destruct on his own before Jan. 3, or do you have to help it along? It’s a tough call,” said a GOP strategist who informally advises Romney’s campaign...

It's a real problem, attacking Gingrich, since Gingrich has kept it pretty positive, and the voters have signaled they really hate intramural attacks. So any attack by Romney will hurt Romney almost as much as it hurts Gingrich.

I think a coblogger suggested Romney's best play might be a tricky thing, pointing out all the areas in which Gingrich and Romney have agreed in the past. Stuff like, "Like Newt, who once championed global warming, I've evolved a little on the issue." This tactic would, in theory, not sound very negative (we once agreed!), while still delivering the deadly payload.

Will it work? I doubt it. It's too transparent.

One problem I've found in this whole primary (and this drives me bonkers):

There is a contingent of voters who vow they will not vote for anything but a very Strong, Nearly Pure, Conservative.

And yet they of course desperately wish to vote for someone, as they really want to boot Obama out of office.

So what keeps happening is that people seem to seize on the idea that whatever candidate these voters are currently supporting, that candidate must be, by definition, a Very Strong Conservative, and arguments to the contrary are met with anger, because -- why are you trying to tear down a Very Strong Conservative?

This candidate must be a very strong conservative. After all, I'm supporting him. And I only support Very Strong Conservatives.

Ergo, your attempts to trick me into thinking he's not a Very Strong Conservative must be some kind of dishonest effort to help Romney and/or Obama.

So the moment someone gets blessed with this Very Strong Conservative designation, a series of obstinate/information-avoiding impulses kick in. And it becomes very hard to convince a supporter of a Very Strong Conservative that his candidate is not, in fact, particularly strong.

Like: Herman Cain suddenly deciding that abortion was a "family decision" into which the government should not intrude.

Ordinarily you would consider such a statement to be fairly good evidence -- certainly relevant evidence -- that a candidate is not in fact as Very Strong a Conservative as advertised.

This cycle, however, pointing that out constitutes a Personal Attack and a Gotcha and an attempt to Do the Establishment's bidding.

The point is, I think Newt is now a "Very Strong Conservative" according to this "whatever guy we're on must be a Very Strong Conservative" thing.

And it's very hard to push people off of that. They kinda don't want to hear it, even if it's pretty relevant to the designation which is so crucial to their decision.

And you know who will have almost no ability at all to carry such a line of attack? Mitt Romney. If I get accused of carrying water for Mitt Romney every time I point out accurate information, I'm pretty sure Mitt Romney will likewise be accused of carrying water for Mitt Romney.

Will Bachmann step up the plate? Maybe. Paul already did. And of course all the other NotRomneys have an interest in taking Gingrich down, just as Romney does.

Huntsman, rising a bit in New Hampshire, is pouncing on Romney's Bret Baier interview.

But time is running short. The Iowa caucus is January 3rd, and people are not going to hear a lot of news for a week and a half before this. Christmas, New Years. Time off, shopping, cooking, seeing family.

As Drew said in an email, Newt Gingrich may be the "Flavor of the Month," but if so, This is the month to be Flavor of the Month in.

Meanwhile, a Romney aide regrets the implosion of Cain, because Cain kept Perry down.

An adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign says in a new book that the campaign was not happy to see former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain’s campaign rocked by allegations of inappropriate behavior dating back to the 1990s.

“We didn’t want [opposition research] on him coming out. We wanted him to stay where he is. He keeps Perry down,” the anonymous aide said, referencing Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

As Romney has thusfar been unable to knock together more than 25-30% support, his victory path seems to rely on a field with multiple viable Romney alternatives.

I have to ask, as a commenter would ask, if I didn't: Is this Romney's attempt to resuscitate Perry's campaign a little -- just a little -- to pull enough support from Gingrich that Romeny can go back into the lead with 30%?

Possible. I doubt it, but possible.

Romney isn't being super-subtle about the chief contrast between himself and Gingrich.

When Mitt Romney stopped in Iowa for a town hall-style meeting the day before Thanksgiving, as Newt Gingrich’s surge was solidifying in the polls, a woman stood to ask Romney what single thing set him apart from his Republican competition.

“Umm…,” Romney said, thinking for a moment. “The most extraordinary wife in the world.”

A Politico story claims that wasn't a one-off.

They’ll point out Gingrich’s past policy shifts which can protect them from attacks against Romney’s own inconsistencies. They’ll highlight Gingrich’s conservative apostasies as a hedge against Romney’s own moderate views. And they’ll highlight his stable family while leaving an unspoken impression about Gingrich’s two divorces.

The plan to increase the attention to Romney’s wife of 42 years and five sons in the hopes of sparking more conversation about Gingrich’s three marriages without raising the topic themselves is one of several subtle offensives.

Before anyone goes ape-poop over that, that is among the baggage we have always meant when we said "Newt Gingrich's baggage." As one blog puts Cain supporters' consideration of jumping to Gingrich, they're choosing between an accused adulterer or an admitted adulterer.

I'm past Gingrich's divorces. C'est la vie. And there is no doubt at all that America cares less about this issue than it once did, and there is no doubt in this fateful election they will care even less about it than usual.

But I don't know if that's the same as "not caring about it."

I really don't know. This is one of the several reasons I've questioned what exactly we "win" by choosing Gingrich over Romney, except a less-electable candidate. I'm not sure if the very marginal gain in supposed "Very Strong Conservatism" makes up for the big hit in general electability.*

Newt's not unelectable. He could win. I just don't know if he has a particularly good shot at winning, or would enter the race as an underdog.

Newt Continues Crushing, Per Rasmussen: Nationally, 38 for Gingrich, 17 for Romney.

When Perry entered the race, the number I had in mind at which a candidate would be all but a lock was 40%.

And By The Way: People have the idea the contest is all but over in January. Iowa, NH, SC, Florida. Done and done.


Because those states all moved up their schedules so far ahead in the calender, there is now a huge eight week gap between the early primaries and Super Tuesday.

Eight weeks is a lot of time for an implosion.

And as I think that most candidates are haunted by the Ghost of Tim Pawlenty, I think most of them will stay in the race, as a formal matter, even if they have to turn their campaign into a skeleton crew and only get to show up for occasional debates and interviews.

So.... this might not be over quite as soon as it looks like.

You might get to enjoy this volatile dogfight through March.

* Then again, that Democratic "flip flop" ad on Romney was brutal. It could be that Romney is a lot weaker than I'm generally imagining he is.

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posted by Ace at 02:52 PM

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