Friday, December 16, 2011

Reverse Newtmentum: What to make of Gingrich's fall in the polls?

What goes up, must come down. (Even science-denying Republicans can't refute Newton. Well, they can, but it just makes them look like idiots.)

And The Newt is, apparently, coming down. Nate Silver:

The polling data I've seen over the past two or three days suggests that Newt Gingrich's momentum has stopped — and has probably reversed itself.

The most troubling numbers for Mr. Gingrich are in Iowa, where three recent polls show that his lead — which had been in double-digits just a week ago — has all but evaporated. One poll, in fact, from Rasmussen Reports, now shows him trailing Mitt Romney. The other two do not show gains for Mr. Romney, but do have Mr. Gingrich essentially tied with Ron Paul.

Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this anymore. Indeed, looking back over the Republican race so far, it's clear that making any sort of prediction was an act of folly. (It'll be Romney... no, Bachmann... no, Perry... no, Romney... no... well, you know the rest.) And it's been utterly futile trying to sort through the madness.

But it seemed that Newt, after months of running a seemingly pointless campaign, was in the right place at the right time. With no one else left to challenge Romney and unite the right against him (other than Ron Paul, who has his ardent followers but no chance of actually winning the nomination), it seemed that many Republicans were willing to give Gingrich a shot, if only by default. And so he surged up the polls, particularly after Cain dropped out, much to many people's surprise. And with so little time left before voting begins, it seemed that he might just be able to sustain his newfound popularity at least through the early states.

But now, this.

What are to make of it?

I don't think he's done. While his numbers are falling, some decline was inevitable as people got to know him better (and found things they didn't like), as his rivals turned their fire on him as the frontrunner (negativity came first from Paul, but Romney has picked up the attack in recent days), as his electability began to be called into question, and as the Republican elite/establishment (whatever you want to call it) began to panic over the inevitable disaster of Gingrich as the nominee, with both politicians (e.g., Pete King, Chris Christie) and pundits (e.g., Noonan, Will, Brooks, Gerson, Coulter, etc.) going on the anti-Newt offensive.

So while one way to look at it is that he's declining, another is that he's just levelling off at a more reasonable level of support, some of the early irrational enthusiasm wiped away.

Which is to say, he can still win Iowa, still run a strong second in New Hampshire, and still win South Carolina and Florida. If anything, his problem is not his poll numbers but his on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote campaigns, which were late getting going because he wasn't really a serious candidate until just recently. So it's possible he'll end up underperforming relative to expectations simply because of a lack of organization (and, relatively speaking, a lack of money). But maybe not. He's still the most viable non-Romney option the Republicans have, and we all know Republicans really don't want Romney as their nominee (other than some in the elite and those worried primarily about electability, and so certainly not the base, not most primary voters).

Look, we may well be witnessing "The Un-Newtening," as Jon Chait put it the other day (though a sudden influx of money may mean "The Re-Newtening"). I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything when it comes to the ongoing craziness of the Republican race to challenge President Obama. For all I know, Chris Christie will be anointed the nominee at a brokered convention next year. I just don't think we can count out The Newt quite yet.

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