I wanted to build on Jonathan’s insightful post regarding Newt Gingrich’s surge, which threatens to capsize the Romney campaign.
What seems to be happening is that an increasing number of GOP voters, at least right now, are making their own inner peace with Gingrich’s past failures and weaknesses. One senses a growing disposition to give Gingrich the benefit of the doubt, including on his past infidelities, indiscipline, and his deviations from current GOP orthodoxy. For Romney and his campaign, then, it’s not enough to hope Gingrich implodes (which could well happen).
Romney now has to take steps to stop Gingrich’s rise. The former Massachusetts governor has to change the political dynamic, which is starting to get away from him. Romney’s task is obvious: to skillfully apply pressure to Gingrich’s fault lines even as Romney finds a way to inspire Republican voters (especially working class voters). Whatever limitations Gingrich has, he does possess the ability to bring a Republican audience to its feet, to give them a sense that they are part of a great cause.
It’s impossible to know whether Gingrich’s surge will be sustained. He’s a man with obvious strengths and obvious weaknesses. Newt watchers have seen both in spades over the years.
The fact that Gingrich is in this position at all is a testimony to his political skills. He was given up for dead by many (including by me) in the summer. But his own abilities, combined with an exceptionally weak GOP field, created an opening for the former Speaker, and he has seized it with a vengeance.
We’re now entering a different phase. The heat is about to be turned up, way up, on Gingrich (see this tough new ad by Ron Paul). And bear in mind that Governor Romney is a much better candidate than he was four years ago. He is, like Gingrich, quite bright and has mastered the issues. He’s an excellent debater and has put in place a first-rate team.
And unlike Gingrich, Romney is disciplined and has, by every account, lived an admirable personal life. He may not inspire voters, but he doesn’t frighten them, either. He is also less of a target-rich environment than Gingrich.
The niceties we’ve seen during the last few months are being pushed aside; the battle is being joined. Gingrich v. Romney is, in boxing terms, like Frazier v. Ali, at least in this respect: you have two men who have completely different styles and completely different strengths going against each other.
Whoever emerges with the nomination will be better for having faced the other.