Thursday, October 20, 2011

Will Newt Gingrich Be the Next Flavor of the Month?

From the beginning of the primary season, Mitt Romney has been the default "next in line" choice for the Republican Party. Because of Romney's flaws, the Party has been searching for an alternative. The reason why the Party--particularly those in the Tea Party who feel Romney is too liberal--has jumped from one candidate to the next is that there is no proper alternative to Romney. Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, and Tim Pawlenty could have been alternatives, but they are not running. Republican primary voters have gone from one flavor of the month to next, causing a spike in various candidates' poll numbers, only to watch them crash when they discover that candidate's flaws. First it was Herman Cain, then Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain again (since few people were paying attention to the race when Cain was first popular).

As Elephant Watcher explained prior to this week's debate, Herman Cain is unlikely to win. He is simply too prone to gaffes, and he provides his opponents with plenty of ammunition to use against him. Cain's poll numbers are likely to drop within the next few weeks as Cain's negatives become more clear. This presents the Tea Party wing with the same old problem: Where do their votes go now?

Since they have already considered and dismissed Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, they may try Newt Gingrich next. Despite Gingrich's high name recognition, he has long been under-performing in the polls. Three months ago, we considered the question of why Newt Gingrich's poll numbers are so low. At that time, Elephant Watcher correctly predicted that Gingrich's numbers would begin to rise in September. The debates allowed Gingrich to reintroduce himself to voters, and his numbers have risen, especially in Florida primary polls and national primary polls.

However, Gingrich is unlikely to succeed. He already suffers from the same problem of a "two-front war" that Elephant Watcher correctly predicted would damage Rick Perry in August. The problem is this: Republicans want a candidate who is electable and conservative. They may forgive a candidate for being an unreliable conservative if he is electable. They may even forgive him for lacking electability to a degree if he is conservative. But they will not choose a candidate if they doubt both his electability and conservatism.

The Tea Party dismissed Gingrich early on because of his image as an unreliable conservative, an impression captured best in a commercial he did in which he sat next to Nancy Pelosi on a couch. Though Gingrich is good at debates, the doubts about his ideological purity remain, just as they do for Romney. Gingrich also suffers from concerns about his electability. He has immense personal baggage and political baggage. Match-up polls of Gingrich vs. Obama tend to have Barack Obama winning by double-digits.

The dilemma is that a voter willing to compromise on conservatism will support an electable candidate like Romney, and a voter who only cares about ideological purity will support someone like Bachmann (or maybe Perry or Cain). This leaves Gingrich without a solid base.