Is the Newt Gingrich boomlet over? And, if so, has Mitt Romney finally outlasted the anti-Romneys?
The news from Iowa of late has been stunning. One week ago today, in the Real Clear Politics average of polls in Iowa, Gingrich still held a double-digit lead on Romney and every other Republican. Today, he is third on average behind Romney and Ron Paul, including one fourth-place showing in which he also trails Rick Perry.
From Nov. 15 until Dec. 12, Gingrich led every major poll in the state. He’s now trailed in three straight — losing 14 percentage points in six days in Insider Advantage’s poll; eight points in five days in Public Policy Poll’s survey; and 12 points in 28 days according to Rasmussen Reports.
The caucuses take place in two weeks, and Iowans will of course be distracted by other things (Christmas, bowl games involving both Iowa and Iowa State, New Year’s) along the way. Gingrich has less money to spend than his rivals. The attack ads they’re running against him are taking a toll, and he’s going to have a hard, if not impossible, time turning the tide.
A victory by Paul is unlikely to foretell a surge for the Texas congressman. He’s not going to beat Romney in New Hampshire, and he’s still polling in the mid-single digits in South Carolina and Florida. There’s plenty of time, and we’ve been surprised plenty of times already in this race, but Paul has a lot of ground to make up and a few candidates to surpass in both of the Southern states. I still don’t think he can win the nomination.
So, short of an unexpected Paul surge beyond Iowa or a Perry comeback — I’d mention Jon Huntsman, but I don’t see how even his very good proposals for taxes and other policy areas can overcome the contempt he’s shown for the GOP base through most of this campaign — it would appear Romney has survived every challenger.
If so, the question becomes whether Romney is a stronger candidate for it. Has he allayed conservatives’ qualms about his implementation of an individual health-insurance mandate in Massachusetts? (If he had, I think he would have consolidated more support by now.) Is he ready to answer the inevitable, withering attacks from Democrats about his career at a private-equity firm and his wealth? (Maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen a robust explanation of creative destruction and the bigger picture from Romney, just a comparison to Obama’s record on jobs.) Is Romney proposing a sufficiently bold and conservative plan on the big economic issues, his ostensible bread and butter? (It would appear the answer is no.)
Those are but three questions, and I think my parenthetical answers to them should signal that Romney still hasn’t closed the sale. It may be that Romney keeps giving life to “anti-Romney” even after all his challengers have fallen by the wayside. Which would mean this contest still has a ways to go.
– By Kyle Wingfield