Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The rise of Newt and the search for the next "Not-Romney"

Not long ago, conversations around the water cooler were about the fact that the Herman Cain experiment had failed and that Republicans would soon be looking for their next "Not-Romney." A few thought that perhaps this could Santorum. Most agreed though that it would more likely be Newt Gingrich, that he would be the next to have his 15 minutes of GOP fame.

There comes a time when you'd like predicting outcomes in politics to be a little bit more challenging. This one was way too easy. Had to be Gingrich next. And so it was.

Yesterday, a Public Policy Polling survey came out with the result that Newt had taken the lead in the sweepstakes for the Republican presidential nomination:

He's at 28% to 25% for Herman Cain and 18% for Mitt Romney. The rest of the Republican field is increasingly looking like a bunch of also rans: Rick Perry is at 6%, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at 5%, John Huntsman at 3%, and Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum at 3% each.

Compared to a month ago Gingrich is up 13 points, while Cain has dropped by 5 points and Romney has gone done by 4. Although a fair amount of skepticism remains about the recent allegations against Cain, there is no doubt they are taking their toll on his image - his net favourability rating is down 25 points over the last month from +51 (66/15) to only +26 (57/31). What is perhaps a little more surprising is that Romney's favourability is at a 6 month low in our polling too with only 48% of voters seeing him favourably to 39% with a negative opinion.

You will find an interesting analysis of why things are as they are on the PPP site, and where Gingrich is getting his support, but the point that we should all understand is that Newt Gingrich is not going to be his party's nominee. He's a supremely unlikable man. It's just not going to happen.

When the books are written about the 2012 GOP nomination process, he will take his place amongst Pawlenty, Trump, Bachmann, Cain, and even Palin as having had his moment, but, just like the rest of them, he's not going to win the prize.

Mitt Romney is going to win the nomination.

The practical question has to do with the extent to which the clear disappointment of being stuck with Romney is going to weigh on the conservative electorate.

One of the dumbest things a campaign manager can say about voters who are less than enthusiastic about their most obvious choice is "what are they going to do?" The implication is always that voters will choose the least objectionable option. But it's also possible that they just won't show up to vote, and probably more than possible that they won't show up to lick envelopes, make phone calls, knock on doors and give money.

Media types like to talk about the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats. In the midterm elections in 2010 it was said that conservatives were more juiced about coming out and it showed. Okay.

The most important enthusiasm gap in 2012 may well be in the hearts and minds of conservative voters as they attempt to bridge the distance between their enthusiasm for beating Obama and their disdain for the guy who's supposed to get them there.

This recent elevation of Gingrich shows clearly that many of them simply have not come to terms with this reality. It'll be fun to watch as the truth sinks in.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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