The latest meme in the GOP presidential primary is: “Newt is back!” They are not making the point I made after the last debate: namely, that Newt Gingrich was poised to be next in line should the current leading-Republican-not-named-Mitt-Romney, Herman Cain, stumble. They are making the case that Gingrich is earning his shot as the challenger to Romney’s aura of inevitability:
Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal:
Newt Gingrich’s rise in the polls — from near zero to the third slot in several polls — should come as no surprise to people who have been watching the Republican debates, now drawing television viewers as never before. The former speaker has stood out at these forums, the debater whose audiences seem to hang on his words and on a flow of thought rich in substance, a world apart from the usual that the political season brings.
Byron York of the Washington Examiner, reporting from Iowa recently on Gingrich’s “wonkish, unconventional” presidential bid:
[T]he former Speaker, whose mother spent the last years of her life in a long-term care facility, has devoted a lot of time over the years working on Alzheimer’s issues. But now he is in the middle of a presidential campaign. He’s in Iowa, with 60 days to go before the caucuses that could decide his future. He is hours away from a crucial speech to the Iowa Republican Party’s annual Reagan dinner. And he is spending nearly two hours of his day, behind closed doors, with three doctors, a couple of aides, and one reporter, talking about brain research. The topic of the approaching caucuses does not come up.
Wonkish, unconventional and substantive as Gingrich’s campaign may be, a stumble by Cain was certainly necessary, too — and it is being delivered. In his press conference yesterday, Cain made clear that he would take his stand on the claim that he has “never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.” He is staking his candidacy on the idea that his accusers cannot prove, with actual evidence, that he did otherwise; that it will simply be his word against theirs; and that voters will decide he is more credible.
There’s a potentially high reward in a Republican primary for Cain’s positioning of himself as the outsider who’s standing up to the ruthless politics of false accusations. But he can hardly afford for anything to go wrong, and it’s not clear that voters are buying it anyway: Rasmussen Reports this morning released a poll showing that “51% of voters nationwide say it is at least somewhat likely the allegations against Cain are both serious and true.” And his campaign has made a couple of embarrassing mistakes in trying to blame someone for old accusations’ coming to light.
It is hard to see how this ends well for Cain.
So, Gingrich’s number may be up. This is probably happening a little earlier than his campaign would have preferred — a mid-December rise in the polls might have translated more easily into primary and caucus votes, without affording as much time for scrutiny to return to his campaign and track record. For the Machiavellians among us, that may be one reason why Gingrich has been content to play nice with Cain in recent appearances: He doesn’t want Cain to slip just yet.
On the other hand, we’re about to enter another weeks-long period during which debates figure heavily in the race. Pretty much everyone concedes that debates are one of Gingrich’s strong suits. If a little buzz leading into these few weeks affords him more face time in those debates, that almost certainly couldn’t hurt him.
If you want confirmation that Gingrich is preparing the foundation for a campaign resurgence, check out his willingness last night to repudiate the climate-change advertisement he infamously filmed with Nancy Pelosi (the relevant part of the clip begins at the 6:39 mark):
Scoff at Gingrich if you want — and I’ll admit to having dismissed his chances months ago. But he, at least, is taking seriously the possibility that his window of opportunity is about to open.
– By Kyle Wingfield