Advancing a Free Society

Newt and the Laws of Campaign Motion

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Newt Gingrich has a plan for bringing down Mitt Romney in New Hampshire and beyond – payback for a Romney-friendly “super PAC”unleashing a world of advertising hurt on Gingrich in Iowa.

Thus spake the former Speaker: (a) he’ll blister Romney each and every day, in the remaining few days until next Tuesday’s vote in New Hampshire (here’s one such TV spot); and (b) together, he and Rick Santorum on the right – with some help from Jon Huntsman in the middle (you remember him: the the only remaining Republican yet to have raced up the charts) – will undermine Romney’s candidacy by, in effect, undermining his conservative credentials.

As Jerry Seinfeld would say: good luck with all of that.

It’s not that Romney isn’t an inviting target. The Obama campaign’swasting no time trying to paint the likely nominee as a man sorely out of touch with working-class Americans.

The problem with the Gingrich strategy: unless the unexpected occurs next Tuesday night, the numbers don’t add up.

To explain why, let’s go back, for a moment, to the 2008 GOP presidential race.

Mike Huckabee was the Iowa winner. He went on to finish a very distant third in New Hampshire, behind John McCain and Romney, the Iowa runner-up.

That sent the race to South Carolina (in 2012, also a pivotal vote), where presumably Huckabee’s southern credentials (former Arkansas governor) would carry the day.

However, Huckabee finished second, to McCain, in South Carolina by 15,000 votes (a difference of less than 4%).

The reason why: a crowded air space.

The third-place finisher in South Carolina, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, pulled in a little shy of 70,000 votes and denied Huckabee the “united” southern front he desired.

There are two ways to interpret those 2008 South Carolina results: McCain won with about one-third of the vote; two-thirds of the vote was anti-McCain – but a divided anti-McCain vote.

This week’s Iowa results followed the same pattern: one-fourth Romney; three-fourths someone else.  And let’s assume a majority of New Hampshirites likewise are anti-Mitt (John McCain got 49% of theprimary vote in 2000 and 37% in 2008; on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton won with 39% in 2008 and John Kerry won with 38.4% in 2004).

This takes us back to the flaw in Gingrich’s thinking.

Yes, he can make difficult Romney with the personal attacks. But as long as the conservative, non-Paul, anti-Romney voting bloc splits at least three ways – Gingrich, Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (hoping for a Palmetto comeback) – that’s all the strategy will do: get under Romney’s skin, but not get between him and the nomination.

The second problem, in addition to Gingrich crowding the air space: Gingrich stealing Santorum’s thunder.

Given the choice is listening to Santorum delivering a nice bio/policy speech or Gingrich delivering a blistering anti-Romney tirade, the media will flock to the latter. That takes the attention away from Santorum. Moreover, done to excess, it also could make Romney a more sympathetic underdog, to the extent that a frontrunner can be cast in a sympathetic light.

I could be wrong here and it could be closer race in New Hampshire than we assume (and if I were Santorum, that’s what I’d be doing right now: convincing every reporter within earshot that any result other than a rout is a win for my side).

But the history of New Hampshire speaks otherwise. To the extent that frontrunners stumble, it’s in the course of a two-person referendum – not a field with five active candidates, which is the case at present.

Ironically, there’s a simple solution for Newt Gingrich if he wants to burn down the village to save it from Romney: drop out of the race and direct his followers Santorum’s way.

Thus the difference between selfishly getting mad versus strategically getting even.