Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gingrich

Why Obama’s Slipping Nationally

Despite the Democratic Party’s determined efforts to paint Republicans as out-of-touch with the mainstream (particularly on contraception issues, women’s rights and foreign policy), President Obama’s numbers are sliding in general election matchups with the GOP candidates, according to the latest Rasmussen and Washington Post-ABC News polls.

Rasmussen found that Obama is now trailing Mitt Romney by five points, while WaPo/ABC found him tied with both Romney and Santorum.

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Despite the Democratic Party’s determined efforts to paint Republicans as out-of-touch with the mainstream (particularly on contraception issues, women’s rights and foreign policy), President Obama’s numbers are sliding in general election matchups with the GOP candidates, according to the latest Rasmussen and Washington Post-ABC News polls.

Rasmussen found that Obama is now trailing Mitt Romney by five points, while WaPo/ABC found him tied with both Romney and Santorum.

 

Both polls cite different reasons for Obama’s weakened standing. Rasmussen finds that Romney’s support has increased among Republicans, and he’s attracting in more defectors from the opposing party than Obama is:

Romney’s support among Republican voters has moved up to 83 percent, just about matching the president’s 84 percent support among Democrats. However, only six percent of GOP voters would vote for Obama if Romney is the nominee. Twice as many Democrats (12 percent) would cross party lines to vote for Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts also has an eight-point advantage among unaffiliated voters.

The numbers show that Obama needs to focus more on getting his own party in line, before he can start reaching out to independent voters and Republicans. But so far, the attempts to paint Romney and the GOP as extreme on social issues, unsympathetic to the middle class, and recklessly aggressive on foreign policy haven’t seemed to have much impact.

Another problem for the Obama campaign is that, despite the positive economic news over the past couple of months, the president still gets low ratings on economic performance. This seems to be because rising gas prices is replacing unemployment as a major personal financial concern. According to the WaPo poll:

Gas prices are a main culprit: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation at the pump, where rising prices have already hit hard. Just 26 percent approve of his work on the issue, his lowest rating in the poll. Most Americans say higher prices are already taking a toll on family finances, and nearly half say they think that prices will continue to rise, and stay high.

Obama had been trying to play both sides of the fence on Keystone XL construction until last week, when he actively lobbied against a Senate bill that would move the pipeline project forward. Unless he flips on this issue, it’s going to dog his campaign as long as gas prices keep rising. Nobody expects gas prices to drop immediately if the Keystone XL gets the green light, but the public wants to hear some long-term plan for dealing with rising gas prices – temporary credits aren’t going to cut it.

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Gingrich’s Silly Claims

Yesterday, Newt Gingrich, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, said, “The fact is, Romney is probably the weakest Republican frontrunner since Leonard Wood in 1920. Yes, he’s the frontrunner, but he’s not a very strong frontrunner, nearly all conservatives are opposed to him. In places where no one else can compete … he does fine.” (Leonard Wood was an Army General who lost the GOP nomination to Warren Harding in 1920.)

How weak or how strong a frontrunner Mitt Romney is will be determined by future events. But we do know several things. The first is that against this “weakest Republican frontrunner since … 1920,” Gingrich has won precisely two primaries–South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. Which makes Gingrich 2-26 in all the primary and caucus elections held to date– a winning percentage of less than 0.08 percent (versus better than 60 percent for Romney). So if Romney is the weakest frontrunner since 1920, does that make Gingrich the weakest challenger since the pre-Civil War era?

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Yesterday, Newt Gingrich, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, said, “The fact is, Romney is probably the weakest Republican frontrunner since Leonard Wood in 1920. Yes, he’s the frontrunner, but he’s not a very strong frontrunner, nearly all conservatives are opposed to him. In places where no one else can compete … he does fine.” (Leonard Wood was an Army General who lost the GOP nomination to Warren Harding in 1920.)

How weak or how strong a frontrunner Mitt Romney is will be determined by future events. But we do know several things. The first is that against this “weakest Republican frontrunner since … 1920,” Gingrich has won precisely two primaries–South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. Which makes Gingrich 2-26 in all the primary and caucus elections held to date– a winning percentage of less than 0.08 percent (versus better than 60 percent for Romney). So if Romney is the weakest frontrunner since 1920, does that make Gingrich the weakest challenger since the pre-Civil War era?

As for the argument that “nearly all conservatives are opposed to him,” that is simply wrong. It’s true that those who consider themselves “strongly conservative” have voted for Romney’s opponents more than they’ve voted for Romney — but it’s also true that Romney does quite well with those who self-identify as “somewhat conservative.” And for those for whom Romney is not the first choice, he’s often the second choice. By my count, Romney has finished third or worse in two contests; Gingrich has finished third or worse in more than 20. So the idea that there’s widespread conservative opposition to Romney just isn’t supported by the data.

As for Gingrich’s claim Romney does fine “in places where no one else can compete” with him, that claim is also silly. In virtually every contest he’s won, Romney has faced competition, including winning three crucial come-from-behind victories in Florida, Michigan, and Ohio (the former Massachusetts governor trailed by double digits).

It doesn’t take a person with a degree in psychiatry to understand what’s happening here. Gingrich is a person who views himself as a world-historical figure. He sees a nomination he (foolishly) believed he had wrapped up three months ago slip away. He has convinced himself his loss is the result of a cosmic injustice, that he was the victim of the worst smear campaign since Jefferson v. Adams. And he simply cannot let it go.

There is something poignant in hearing Gingrich repeat, time and time again, that there was a moment in time, in December, when he led the Gallup poll. (Having a lead in a Gallup poll is a claim most people who entered the GOP race can make, including Donald Trump, who was tied for the GOP lead in August.)

Newt Gingrich is a talented fellow. But his inability to control his emotions, combined with an inflated sense of his own greatness, has plagued him throughout this campaign, as it has for his entire career. One can only hope that he soon makes his own inner peace with his failure to win the GOP nomination

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Delegate Math Not Altered By Kansas

The biggest prize in the assortment of various states and territories up for grabs in the Republican presidential contests this weekend went to Rick Santorum, who took Kansas with another smashing victory. The former senator got more than 51 percent of the vote, with Mitt Romney placing a distant second and barely eclipsing the 20 percent mark that was necessary for him to win some delegates there. But while another showing in which evangelical support led to a victory bolstered Santorum, the delegate math wasn’t altered much by the results. Santorum got 33 of Kansas’ delegates to the Republican National Convention with Romney picking up just 7. But while Santorum was winning Kansas, Romney cleaned up in Wyoming as well as in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, nearly offsetting the Pennsylvanian’s advantage. When the dust settles, Romney will still have more delegates than all of his GOP rivals combined.

Romney is clearly on track to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination at the Tampa convention, but he will do so without sweeping the GOP board as conservatives continue to rally around Santorum as not only the leading “not Romney” but also as their standard-bearer on social issues. Far from being discouraged, the Pennsylvanian’s backers are doubling down on their determination to fight Romney all the way to the convention while also seeking to find some way to persuade Newt Gingrich to leave the race and thus allow Santorum the opportunity for a one-on-one battle with the frontrunner. Though the ultimate outcome is not much in doubt, Republicans appear set to spend the next few months in engaging in a long drown-out struggle that will leave the victor in a weakened state to face off against President Obama in the fall.

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The biggest prize in the assortment of various states and territories up for grabs in the Republican presidential contests this weekend went to Rick Santorum, who took Kansas with another smashing victory. The former senator got more than 51 percent of the vote, with Mitt Romney placing a distant second and barely eclipsing the 20 percent mark that was necessary for him to win some delegates there. But while another showing in which evangelical support led to a victory bolstered Santorum, the delegate math wasn’t altered much by the results. Santorum got 33 of Kansas’ delegates to the Republican National Convention with Romney picking up just 7. But while Santorum was winning Kansas, Romney cleaned up in Wyoming as well as in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, nearly offsetting the Pennsylvanian’s advantage. When the dust settles, Romney will still have more delegates than all of his GOP rivals combined.

Romney is clearly on track to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination at the Tampa convention, but he will do so without sweeping the GOP board as conservatives continue to rally around Santorum as not only the leading “not Romney” but also as their standard-bearer on social issues. Far from being discouraged, the Pennsylvanian’s backers are doubling down on their determination to fight Romney all the way to the convention while also seeking to find some way to persuade Newt Gingrich to leave the race and thus allow Santorum the opportunity for a one-on-one battle with the frontrunner. Though the ultimate outcome is not much in doubt, Republicans appear set to spend the next few months in engaging in a long drown-out struggle that will leave the victor in a weakened state to face off against President Obama in the fall.

Kansas provides the latest evidence that Santorum’s ability to rally the conservative base to his standard is no longer in question. And after a gathering with his major backers in Texas this weekend in which more money was raised for his super PAC to spend on his candidacy, there is also no doubt he has the resources to stay in the race, albeit on not equal terms with the better-funded Romney. With a new Chicago Tribune poll showing him in striking distance of Romney in Illinois, another month of bruising big-state confrontations between the two is guaranteed.

But Gingrich’s determination to stay in the GOP mix presents a formidable obstacle to Santorum’s goal of a matchup against Romney. Tuesday’s contests in Mississippi and Alabama both look to be close, with any one of the three contenders having a chance. The good news for Romney is not just that polls show him ahead in Mississippi and even with the others in Alabama, but that two out of the three possible outcomes benefit him. If he wins in either or both states, it shows he has the ability to win in the South and demonstrates he can win GOP primaries in any part of the country. But he also benefits from a Gingrich win in either state, as a victory for the former speaker in any state from here on out will be all he will need to convince himself he should stay in the race.

On Thursday, Santorum hinted that he would consider Gingrich as his putative running mate. Such a bargain might present a unified conservative front against Romney, but it’s not clear this would be enough to persuade Gingrich to give up. Santorum can only hope that a collapse of the Georgian’s campaign after losses in Mississippi and Alabama will persuade him there is no reason to go on.

Yet no matter what Gingrich decides to do this week, it appears the narrative of the GOP race is now set. Romney will go on picking up the delegates that will eventually enable him to clinch the nomination though he has little hope of that happening before June. At the same time, Santorum will go on presenting him with a formidable challenge that will make it clear Romney hasn’t clinched the deal with his party’s base.

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A Race Without Gingrich?

Jonathan makes a persuasive case that Newt Gingrich will stick around for the long haul, but in the event that the former speaker does decide to drop out, how much would that boost Rick Santorum’s chances of winning the nomination? Nate Silver does the math, and finds the benefit could be significant:

Mr. Santorum would have carried four states that he actually lost. The first two are the ones Mr. Gingrich won originally, South Carolina and Georgia, although his margin would have been very small in South Carolina. His share of the Gingrich vote would also have been enough to push him past Mr. Romney in Ohio and Alaska. He would not have won Michigan — Mr. Gingrich received very few votes there so there was little marginal benefit to Mr. Santorum — although it would have flipped one congressional district and therefore given him the majority of delegates in the state. …

With those qualifications in mind, this general result should hold: Mr. Romney would still be significantly ahead in the delegate count. I have him with 404 delegates versus 264 for Mr. Santorum and 71 for Mr. Paul.

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Jonathan makes a persuasive case that Newt Gingrich will stick around for the long haul, but in the event that the former speaker does decide to drop out, how much would that boost Rick Santorum’s chances of winning the nomination? Nate Silver does the math, and finds the benefit could be significant:

Mr. Santorum would have carried four states that he actually lost. The first two are the ones Mr. Gingrich won originally, South Carolina and Georgia, although his margin would have been very small in South Carolina. His share of the Gingrich vote would also have been enough to push him past Mr. Romney in Ohio and Alaska. He would not have won Michigan — Mr. Gingrich received very few votes there so there was little marginal benefit to Mr. Santorum — although it would have flipped one congressional district and therefore given him the majority of delegates in the state. …

With those qualifications in mind, this general result should hold: Mr. Romney would still be significantly ahead in the delegate count. I have him with 404 delegates versus 264 for Mr. Santorum and 71 for Mr. Paul.

Under this model, Santorum would have more than 100 more delegates right now than he does currently. He’d been in a much more solid position but would still trail Romney by 140 delegates.

So, as much as the Santorum campaign is justified in trying to nudge Gingrich out, it’s simply not accurate to say Gingrich is the only thing holding Santorum back from slaying Romney. Even in a Newt-less race, Santorum would still have a tough path to the nomination. And the more states Gingrich sticks around for, the less Santorum stands to gain if/when the former speaker exits the field.

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Seven Reasons Why Newt Won’t Quit

In the wake of the Super Tuesday results that saw Newt Gingrich get beaten badly in every state but Georgia, more conservatives are talking about the necessity of the former House speaker dropping out of the presidential race if Mitt Romney is to be prevented from becoming the Republican nominee. Because Rick Santorum’s support was a multiple of his in every state but Georgia, the argument goes that it is incumbent on Gingrich to withdraw and allow Santorum to face Romney in a one-on-one battle in which the more conservative Pennsylvanian might be favored to win. Indeed, it can be argued that Gingrich’s presence on the ballot was the only reason why Santorum lost narrowly in both Michigan and Ohio in the last two weeks. If the sole object of conservatives is to nominate someone other than Romney, then Gingrich’s withdrawal appears to be not only logical but an imperative. However, the assumption that Gingrich will bow to these arguments ignores everything we know about him. Here are seven reasons why Newt isn’t likely to heed the call to withdraw:

1. He’s still holding on to hope of winning in other southern states. Gingrich’s camp is claiming he lost Tennessee because he’s concentrating on winning Alabama and Mississippi next week. But we were also told he was passing on some February contests to concentrate on Ohio where he turned out to be a non-factor this week. If there are any states where Gingrich does have a chance, it is in the Deep South, but given Santorum’s strength among evangelicals, the odds of him prevailing in either or both are dwindling. After another round of defeats, this excuse won’t hold much water.

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In the wake of the Super Tuesday results that saw Newt Gingrich get beaten badly in every state but Georgia, more conservatives are talking about the necessity of the former House speaker dropping out of the presidential race if Mitt Romney is to be prevented from becoming the Republican nominee. Because Rick Santorum’s support was a multiple of his in every state but Georgia, the argument goes that it is incumbent on Gingrich to withdraw and allow Santorum to face Romney in a one-on-one battle in which the more conservative Pennsylvanian might be favored to win. Indeed, it can be argued that Gingrich’s presence on the ballot was the only reason why Santorum lost narrowly in both Michigan and Ohio in the last two weeks. If the sole object of conservatives is to nominate someone other than Romney, then Gingrich’s withdrawal appears to be not only logical but an imperative. However, the assumption that Gingrich will bow to these arguments ignores everything we know about him. Here are seven reasons why Newt isn’t likely to heed the call to withdraw:

1. He’s still holding on to hope of winning in other southern states. Gingrich’s camp is claiming he lost Tennessee because he’s concentrating on winning Alabama and Mississippi next week. But we were also told he was passing on some February contests to concentrate on Ohio where he turned out to be a non-factor this week. If there are any states where Gingrich does have a chance, it is in the Deep South, but given Santorum’s strength among evangelicals, the odds of him prevailing in either or both are dwindling. After another round of defeats, this excuse won’t hold much water.

2. His source of funding hasn’t dried up yet. Gingrich hasn’t been raising much money lately but his super PAC isn’t broke and apparently casino mogul Sheldon Adelson hasn’t plugged the plug on him yet, perhaps because he rightly believes keeping his friend in the race will help his second choice, Romney. Considering that Gingrich was able to keep his campaign going on a shoestring throughout last summer and fall without much money in the bank, there’s no reason to think the lack of resources alone will persuade him to drop out now.

3. He doesn’t think much more of Santorum than of Romney. Gingrich may have been willing to praise Santorum back in January when he hoped that he would drop out and endorse him the way Herman Cain and Rick Perry did, but Gingrich appears to resent the notion that he has been supplanted by someone who was once very much his inferior in the GOP pecking order. Part of Gingrich’s enormous self-regard is his low opinion of those of his peers who are unwilling to treat him with the deference he thinks he deserves. This is a character trait that has often prevented Gingrich from playing nicely with the other children in the political sandbox.

4. He thinks Santorum can’t be elected. Though the polls and the primary results tell a different story, Gingrich really does believe that he is uniquely equipped to beat President Obama in November. While his calls for Lincoln-Douglas debates set the eyes of media pundits and politicians rolling, Gingrich may believe that Santorum’s political weaknesses, like those of Romney, make him unlikely to defeat Obama.

5. Dropping out would be an admission his critics were right. As we saw in his bizarre victory speech in Georgia this week, Gingrich is motivated as much by his desire to prove his numerous critics wrong as anything else. The idea that he can prevail despite his personal baggage and inconsistent policy record has become something of an article of faith with the former speaker. Pulling out now would mean everyone else was right and he was wrong, something that directly contradicts his view of reality.

6. He likes running for president. Withdrawal — especially in favor of someone he considers a lesser man — would not only be personally humiliating, it would put an end to all the attention the media has been paying to him. Gingrich sorely missed being the center of attention during his years out of office and though the burden of running for president is enough to crush many other men, he has thrived on it. Gingrich might have run just for the fun of being in the debates alone. Going back to being a political has-been is going to be tough, and like some athletes who hold on too long and have the uniforms torn off them, Newt will have to be dragged out of the race. He won’t leave it voluntarily no matter what the inducements might be.

7. Newt really thinks America deserves a Gingrich presidency. There are some politicians who run for president not so much because they want it but because they are so besotted with the notion of their own greatness that they think it is only fair to give their fellow citizens a chance to do the right thing and put them in the White House. Gingrich’s self-regard and love for his country is such that he will not willingly deny Americans this last opportunity to make him their president so long as even the faintest hope for such an outcome exists.

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Debating Romney’s Path to Nomination

As Rick Santorum tries to elbow Newt Gingrich out of the race, and Mitt Romney attempts to pressure them both to throw in the towel, the Daily Beast reports that none of the three candidates – not even Romney – have a clear path to the nomination at this point. Here’s the latest on Romney’s thorny delegate math.

Even if Mitt somehow won every delegate in every coming contest, he still wouldn’t clinch the nomination until Oregon’s primary on May 15.

And if Romney musters only 40 percent of the proportional delegates going forward—equivalent to his share of the popular vote total to date—it would mean the first Republican race undecided when the convention opened in a generation. …

Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul individually have no real path to winning the delegate fight—but collectively they are positioned to deny the nomination to Romney and kick the contest to the convention in Tampa, where all delegates are released after the first ballot.

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As Rick Santorum tries to elbow Newt Gingrich out of the race, and Mitt Romney attempts to pressure them both to throw in the towel, the Daily Beast reports that none of the three candidates – not even Romney – have a clear path to the nomination at this point. Here’s the latest on Romney’s thorny delegate math.

Even if Mitt somehow won every delegate in every coming contest, he still wouldn’t clinch the nomination until Oregon’s primary on May 15.

And if Romney musters only 40 percent of the proportional delegates going forward—equivalent to his share of the popular vote total to date—it would mean the first Republican race undecided when the convention opened in a generation. …

Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul individually have no real path to winning the delegate fight—but collectively they are positioned to deny the nomination to Romney and kick the contest to the convention in Tampa, where all delegates are released after the first ballot.

Note that the Daily Beast reporters came to a different conclusion than Frontloading HQ’s Josh Putnam, a political scientist, who still believes Romney has a realistic chance of getting to the magic 1144:

What if you put Mitt Romney in the same model(s) under the same circumstances? Ah, I’m glad you asked.

  • In the first model where Romney would be at 50 percent support statewide and in each congressional district, the former Massachusetts governor would net 1254 delegates.
  • In the second model that accounts for a likely bare minimum of candidates over the threshold, Romney would surpass 1300 delegates at 1341.

Even if we simulate a scenario where Romney continues to only win half of the congressional districts, he still gets to 1152 delegates in the second more realistic model….

The bottom line here is that Romney has enough of a delegate advantage right now and especially coming out of today’s contests it is very unlikely that anyone will catch him, much less catch him and get to 1144.

The conclusions are strikingly different, and while Putnam shows his work, the Daily Beast doesn’t explain its math in as much detail. As someone who never majored in statistics, I won’t even begin to try to parse out the true answer at this point. Just know there are cases being made on both sides right now.

Beyond that, there was one point the Daily Beast article mentioned that is absolutely relevant in all scenarios: Barring a miracle, neither Santorum nor Gingrich have a path to reaching 1144. And yet they can make Romney’s route incredibly difficult at the very least, and in some scenarios even block him from being able to collect enough delegates.

The media is happy to drag the battle out as long as possible. But it’s unclear how much patience Republican voters have left for this race. Many conservatives have been supportive of a prolonged primary so far, ostensibly out of the hope it will lead to a brokered convention or a “thorough” vetting process. But the vetting of the Republican field has been pretty complete so far, and the longer the primary race remains a media distraction, the longer it will take before the GOP can fully focus on publicly airing out Obama’s record – and that’s pretty important if the party wants a shot at taking back the White House next November. There will come a time soon when the extended race will stop being a good thing for the Republican Party. And if the battle spills into June? Well, then it becomes a bad thing.

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Gingrich’s Delegate Math Hard to Figure

This afternoon, Newt Gingrich’s Twitter account linked to a video with the following teaser, “Take a look at some interesting delegate math. The race is far from over and we will win this nomination.” The video, uploaded to Newt’s YouTube account, is of one of his senior advisers outlining how it’s possible for Gingrich to clinch the Republican nomination, despite only having won the states of South Carolina and Georgia to date. It appears that Gingrich’s camp is relying on states that assign their delegates as late as May and early June, hoping to win large winner-take-all states like Texas to clinch the nomination.

Strangely, the video uploaded by Gingrich’s own staff also include Karl Rove’s immediate and stinging rebuke, where he explains that the Gingrich campaign cannot stay alive until May to compete in Texas when most states where Gingrich could be competitive proportionally allocate their delegates. Rove states,

You cannot win the nomination if like in tonight, in Virginia, where Mitt Romney got 41 delegates, at minimum, to zero for Gingrich and Santorum. So, you know, it’s plausible to say ‘stay alive til Texas’ and ‘win in Texas in the end.’ But between now and then you got to close the gap and you can’t close the gap a delegate, or two or three or four at a time. Particularly when you ran third in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

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This afternoon, Newt Gingrich’s Twitter account linked to a video with the following teaser, “Take a look at some interesting delegate math. The race is far from over and we will win this nomination.” The video, uploaded to Newt’s YouTube account, is of one of his senior advisers outlining how it’s possible for Gingrich to clinch the Republican nomination, despite only having won the states of South Carolina and Georgia to date. It appears that Gingrich’s camp is relying on states that assign their delegates as late as May and early June, hoping to win large winner-take-all states like Texas to clinch the nomination.

Strangely, the video uploaded by Gingrich’s own staff also include Karl Rove’s immediate and stinging rebuke, where he explains that the Gingrich campaign cannot stay alive until May to compete in Texas when most states where Gingrich could be competitive proportionally allocate their delegates. Rove states,

You cannot win the nomination if like in tonight, in Virginia, where Mitt Romney got 41 delegates, at minimum, to zero for Gingrich and Santorum. So, you know, it’s plausible to say ‘stay alive til Texas’ and ‘win in Texas in the end.’ But between now and then you got to close the gap and you can’t close the gap a delegate, or two or three or four at a time. Particularly when you ran third in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Gingrich’s claims that a nomination is possible, despite these extreme mathematical improbabilities, reminds me of the 2008 primary season where Gov. Mike Huckabee stayed in the race far longer than he should have against Sen. John McCain. In what remains my favorite “Saturday Night Live” sketch of all time, Weekend Update’s Seth Meyers asks Huckabee why he had yet to concede, despite the mathematical impossibility of winning. The back and forth is great television, well-acted on Huckabee’s part, and ends with Huckabee admitting that while he could not possibly win, he would not be conceding in the near future.

In the four years since that appearance, Huckabee wrote a best-selling book, became a Fox News contributor and began hosting a Fox News program. What was inexplicable at the time of the SNL appearance suddenly became clear: Huckabee rode the coattails of his candidacy all the way to the bank.

As my colleague Alana Goodman explained today, the only path forward for Santorum to clinch the nomination is if Newt Gingrich drops out of the race, leaving the field open for Santorum to capture the not-Romney vote. In countless debates, Gingrich continually took the path of taking on Obama versus his Republican opponents. He has claimed taking down the president is his number one priority while at the same time, during his speech last night, explaining:

I don’t believe the Romney technique of outspending your opponent four- or five-to-one with negative ads will work against Barack Obama, because there is no possibility that any Republican is going to out-raise the incumbent president of the United States. Therefore, you can’t follow that strategy.

What you have to have is somebody who knows what they believe, understands how to articulate it so it cuts through all the media, offsets the bias of the elite media who are desperate to re-elect the president and has the guts to take the president head-on every single time he’s wrong.

If Gingrich truly believes this, if he thinks Romney cannot win against the incumbent president, I cannot fathom that a man as intelligent as he is actually believes he’s the man who can do it. What price tag does Gingrich put on the free publicity he’s garnering while he remains in the race? Is it high enough to forfeit what he’s claimed is the Republicans’ only chance at victory in November?

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Only Path for Santorum: Gingrich Has to Go

Despite Mitt Romney’s less-than-exceptional performance last night, neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum has a viable path to the nomination from here. At Frontloading HQ, Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that while it’s not mathematically impossible for either candidate to get to the 1144 delegates needed to win, the chances are so low that it might as well be.

For Santorum, the possibility is more likely if Gingrich – who has been trailing in the race, but still siphoning off potential Santorum supporters – drops out. The Wall Street Journal describes the impact this had on the primaries last night:

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich effectively split the southern states in Tuesday’s contest: The former Pennsylvania senator won in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and the former House speaker claimed the richest delegate prize in his home state of Georgia. Mr. Santorum also claimed North Dakota. Both men used the results to argue they were the conservative alternative to Mr. Romney. …

Mr. Gingrich has siphoned off just enough votes in key states to cost Mr. Santorum wins and delegates, [campaign strategist] Mr. Brabender said. In last week’s Michigan primary, Mr. Santorum lost to Mr. Romney by 3 percentage points.

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Despite Mitt Romney’s less-than-exceptional performance last night, neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum has a viable path to the nomination from here. At Frontloading HQ, Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that while it’s not mathematically impossible for either candidate to get to the 1144 delegates needed to win, the chances are so low that it might as well be.

For Santorum, the possibility is more likely if Gingrich – who has been trailing in the race, but still siphoning off potential Santorum supporters – drops out. The Wall Street Journal describes the impact this had on the primaries last night:

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich effectively split the southern states in Tuesday’s contest: The former Pennsylvania senator won in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and the former House speaker claimed the richest delegate prize in his home state of Georgia. Mr. Santorum also claimed North Dakota. Both men used the results to argue they were the conservative alternative to Mr. Romney. …

Mr. Gingrich has siphoned off just enough votes in key states to cost Mr. Santorum wins and delegates, [campaign strategist] Mr. Brabender said. In last week’s Michigan primary, Mr. Santorum lost to Mr. Romney by 3 percentage points.

Realizing the problem, Santorum’s campaign is now all but calling for Gingrich to drop out:

Senior campaign strategist John Brabender said the key for the campaign going forward will be creating an opportunity to challenge Mitt Romney one-on-one, though Brabender maintained the Santorum campaign would not directly call on Gingrich to drop out of the race.

Based on Gingrich’s speech last night – in which he enlightened us with a protracted, completely inaccurate history of the race so far – he seems to have no intention of dropping out anytime soon. As untenable as his path to victory is, he may just be delusional enough to think he can pull it off.

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Mr. Inevitable Survives Another Scare

It was not the easiest of nights for Mitt Romney, who spent much of the evening on Super Tuesday watching Rick Santorum pile up unexpected victories in three states while taking an early lead in the big prize of Ohio. Yet when the dust had settled, Romney wound up squeaking out a 10,000-vote win in Ohio and could claim triumph in six of the ten states that held elections. This allowed him to pad his already large lead in delegates.  Just as important, Newt Gingrich’s win in his home state of Georgia gave the former speaker an excuse to stay in the race and therefore deny Santorum the opportunity to go head-to-head with Romney as the sole conservative in the race.

Santorum can claim to have exceeded expectations and to have held his own across the nation despite the grave financial and organizational advantages Romney holds over him. That Romney is a weak frontrunner who will continue to be damaged by a lengthy and nasty race cannot be denied. But unless Santorum can get Gingrich to drop out almost immediately — something that is not going to happen — the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from a long evening of watching results from around the country is that Romney is still the only one of the GOP quartet who has a path to the nomination.

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It was not the easiest of nights for Mitt Romney, who spent much of the evening on Super Tuesday watching Rick Santorum pile up unexpected victories in three states while taking an early lead in the big prize of Ohio. Yet when the dust had settled, Romney wound up squeaking out a 10,000-vote win in Ohio and could claim triumph in six of the ten states that held elections. This allowed him to pad his already large lead in delegates.  Just as important, Newt Gingrich’s win in his home state of Georgia gave the former speaker an excuse to stay in the race and therefore deny Santorum the opportunity to go head-to-head with Romney as the sole conservative in the race.

Santorum can claim to have exceeded expectations and to have held his own across the nation despite the grave financial and organizational advantages Romney holds over him. That Romney is a weak frontrunner who will continue to be damaged by a lengthy and nasty race cannot be denied. But unless Santorum can get Gingrich to drop out almost immediately — something that is not going to happen — the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from a long evening of watching results from around the country is that Romney is still the only one of the GOP quartet who has a path to the nomination.

Romney is still losing conservatives and evangelicals as the GOP grassroots continue to resist the likely nominee. That’s why he had such a scare in Ohio and lost Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota to Santorum. If he had but one conservative opponent that might be fatal, but so long as Gingrich continues to drain right-wing votes from Santorum, it will allow Romney to squeeze by with pluralities.

Yet, Romney is also the only candidate with the organization and the financial wherewithal to compete in every region of the country, allowing him to amass wins one way or the other. With Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Idaho, Alaska and Ohio now in his column, Romney’s share of delegates will grow. At this stage of the race, the delegate math is more important than Santorum’s moral victories, meaning that despite the bad optics of the near loss in Ohio, Romney must still be considered the eventual nominee.

But so long as his opponents continue to win states, they will not drop out. The exception to this is Ron Paul, who failed again to win a single state but who will continue flogging his libertarian extremism. In the case of Gingrich’s taking Georgia, that is very much to Romney’s advantage. So far, Gingrich has flopped everywhere but in Georgia and neighboring South Carolina. In his speech last night, Gingrich again put on display the petulance and lack of grace that has become the hallmark of his presidential run as he spent most of his half-hour address whining about opposition from elites, “Wall Street” and Romney’s negative ads. Though his continued presence in the race seems motivated as much by spite against Romney as his own ambition, it is no small irony that by doing so he is providing inestimable aid to the former Massachusetts governor by taking away support from Santorum.

Santorum cannot help but be encouraged by his three wins as well as by the narrow loss in Ohio. That will allow him to continue to raise the money he needs to keep running though not enough to compete with the Romney juggernaut. One can look at the Pennsylvanian’s candidacy and ponder just how well he would be doing if Gingrich had dropped out weeks ago when it became apparent he had no chance of being the nominee. But even another couple of months of Santorum upsets and near-wins are not likely to accomplish anything more than to do further damage to the eventual nominee.

That’s a problem for Romney, who will spend the rest of the spring trying in vain to convince conservatives he is one of them while being belabored by Santorum for his Massachusetts health care law. But as trying as this process is for him, he must content himself with the fact that most of those now voting against him in GOP primaries and caucuses will eventually rally to his side once the alternative becomes another four years of Barack Obama.

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Santorum Wins Mean Trouble for Romney

Mitt Romney may well emerge from Super Tuesday with an enlarged delegate lead as well as the biggest prize if he holds onto his slim lead in Ohio. But the evening will be no blowout for the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum winning in Tennessee and Oklahoma and Newt Gingrich taking his home state of Georgia, there’s no doubt the race will go on for some time, with both conservative underdogs continuing to drain Romney’s resources and undermine his chances of uniting his party.

No matter what would have happened tonight, it’s doubtful that either Santorum or Gingrich would have dropped out. Yet, by preventing Romney from sweeping the map, the pair has ensured the outcome of the GOP contest is, if not exactly in doubt, still to be determined. The only unalloyed good news for Romney is that the victory of a bitter and resentful Gingrich in Georgia guarantees he will continue to benefit from a split conservative field.

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Mitt Romney may well emerge from Super Tuesday with an enlarged delegate lead as well as the biggest prize if he holds onto his slim lead in Ohio. But the evening will be no blowout for the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum winning in Tennessee and Oklahoma and Newt Gingrich taking his home state of Georgia, there’s no doubt the race will go on for some time, with both conservative underdogs continuing to drain Romney’s resources and undermine his chances of uniting his party.

No matter what would have happened tonight, it’s doubtful that either Santorum or Gingrich would have dropped out. Yet, by preventing Romney from sweeping the map, the pair has ensured the outcome of the GOP contest is, if not exactly in doubt, still to be determined. The only unalloyed good news for Romney is that the victory of a bitter and resentful Gingrich in Georgia guarantees he will continue to benefit from a split conservative field.

Romney will rightly claim any result that leaves him much closer to the delegate count he needs to be the nominee is a big win. And if he can combine that with taking Ohio — an outcome that is still very much in doubt at the moment — it will be reasonable for him to spin Super Tuesday as a triumph for his candidacy. However, Santorum’s victories in Tennessee and Oklahoma not only will pump new life into the Pennsylvanian’s campaign, the results also reinforce Romney’s problems with conservatives. Rather than spending tomorrow talking about Romney’s inevitability, the discussion may be more about his continued difficulty in closing the deal with his own party’s base.

Unless either Gingrich or Santorum drops out — something that is highly unlikely — Romney is the inevitable GOP winner. Gingrich’s continued presence in the race all but guarantees that Santorum will never be able to get the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he thinks will bring him victory. But Santorum’s ability to beat him in two states despite a fundraising disadvantage and spending much of the last few weeks on the defensive about his views on social issues illustrates the frontrunner’s weakness. Combined with the likelihood that a nasty and expensive race will continue for weeks if not months deeper into the spring, that’s not a hopeful sign for Republicans. At a time when some slight improvement in the economy has put some wind in Barack Obama’s sails, the ongoing slugfest in which Romney remains the piñata of the right can only make it harder for him to eventually prevail in the fall.

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Romney Still Reaping Dividends From Weak Field of Rivals

In a year in which the Republican Party’s proportional delegate allocation rules have ruled out a quick end to the presidential race, it isn’t possible for any candidate to use this week’s Super Tuesday primaries to lock up the GOP nomination. With new polls showing he has either caught or surpassed Rick Santorum in the crucial Ohio and Tennessee primaries, Mitt Romney can take a crucial step toward the nomination in tomorrow’s 10-state showdown. If Romney wins in both of those states, that may mean Santorum could end the day without a single triumph to his name. With the fading Newt Gingrich ahead in his adopted home state of Georgia, a Super Tuesday shutout might be a telling blow to Santorum. By tomorrow night, Santorum’s February surge may well be replaced by a March collapse.

The reason for Romney’s growing strength isn’t hard to discern. The frontrunner’s problems have not gone away. He still has trouble connecting with voters and conservatives have yet to accept him as one of their own. But the continued presence of two weak conservative rivals in the field have nevertheless put Mitt Romney in position to solidify his delegate lead as well as strengthen the impression he is the inevitable Republican standard bearer.

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In a year in which the Republican Party’s proportional delegate allocation rules have ruled out a quick end to the presidential race, it isn’t possible for any candidate to use this week’s Super Tuesday primaries to lock up the GOP nomination. With new polls showing he has either caught or surpassed Rick Santorum in the crucial Ohio and Tennessee primaries, Mitt Romney can take a crucial step toward the nomination in tomorrow’s 10-state showdown. If Romney wins in both of those states, that may mean Santorum could end the day without a single triumph to his name. With the fading Newt Gingrich ahead in his adopted home state of Georgia, a Super Tuesday shutout might be a telling blow to Santorum. By tomorrow night, Santorum’s February surge may well be replaced by a March collapse.

The reason for Romney’s growing strength isn’t hard to discern. The frontrunner’s problems have not gone away. He still has trouble connecting with voters and conservatives have yet to accept him as one of their own. But the continued presence of two weak conservative rivals in the field have nevertheless put Mitt Romney in position to solidify his delegate lead as well as strengthen the impression he is the inevitable Republican standard bearer.

Romney’s path to the nomination remains the same as it was before the votes started being cast. With conservatives unable to unite behind a single, viable candidate, the well-funded Romney has managed to survive the scorn of most Tea Partiers and evangelicals and continued to pile up pluralities in most of the contests. Few in the party are sold on him, and the slight revival of the economy in recent months has even cast some doubt on his electability against a strengthened Barack Obama. But politics is always a matter of comparisons, and alongside Santorum and Gingrich, not to mention the libertarian outlier Ron Paul, Romney looks like the only one with even a prayer in November.

Santorum had his chance last week in Michigan to turn the race around and send Romney into a tailspin from which he might not have recovered. But in the week before that vote, his long record of embarrassing statements on social issues caught up to him in much the same way some of Gingrich’s personal and political baggage eventually dragged him down during his two surges in the polls. With both of his main rivals crippled in this manner and with each of them ensuring the other can never achieve a one-on-one confrontation with Romney, the former Massachusetts governor has become, almost by default, a frontrunner and is now on the verge of being acclaimed as the certain nominee.

The keys to achieving that status will be found in Ohio and Tennessee. Romney’s momentum looks like it will be enough to carry him over the top in the big prize tomorrow in Ohio. However, Tennessee could be just as important. It is the sort of southern state that Romney is expected to lose because its Republican electorate is largely made up of voters who have shunned him so far. But the We Ask America poll of the state published today shows him taking a one-point lead over both Santorum and Gingrich. The 30-29-29 result is a virtual three-way tie, so no one should assume a Romney victory, but the perception of a rising Romney tide may help him there. If Romney can win in a southern state like Tennessee, the argument will underline the fact he is the only one of the GOP contenders who is truly running a national campaign.

Though Gingrich will pretend a win in Georgia gives him a chance to become a regional candidate and win other southern states, a Santorum shutout will be the beginning of the end for the Pennsylvanian and make it harder for him to raise the money to run a viable campaign elsewhere.

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National GOP Poll: Romney Has Big Lead

Proving once again how fluid the GOP race is, Mitt Romney is now leading Rick Santorum by 16 percent nationally, according to Rasmussen. Just two weeks ago, Santorum was beating Romney in the same poll.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, coming off his primary wins in Arizona and Michigan, has jumped to a 16-point lead over Rick Santorum in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters shows Romney with 40 percent support to 24 percent for the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. This is Romney’s biggest lead to date and the highest level of support any GOP candidate has earned in regular surveying of the race. Two weeks ago, it was Santorum 39 percent, Romney 27 percent.

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Proving once again how fluid the GOP race is, Mitt Romney is now leading Rick Santorum by 16 percent nationally, according to Rasmussen. Just two weeks ago, Santorum was beating Romney in the same poll.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, coming off his primary wins in Arizona and Michigan, has jumped to a 16-point lead over Rick Santorum in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters shows Romney with 40 percent support to 24 percent for the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. This is Romney’s biggest lead to date and the highest level of support any GOP candidate has earned in regular surveying of the race. Two weeks ago, it was Santorum 39 percent, Romney 27 percent.

Clearly, Romney got a bigger boost from winning Michigan and Arizona than expected. Not only does this completely invalidate Santorum’s claims that Michigan was a “disaster” for Romney, it’s also bad news for Santorum going into Super Tuesday. That’s really his last chance to stay in the game, and with momentum moving toward Romney nationally, it’s obviously less likely that Santorum will succeed.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is far behind at 16 percent, which is just a few points better than Ron Paul at 12 percent. While Paul is in this for the long haul, it’s clear Gingrich won’t be able to stick around for long after Super Tuesday.

Is this the last time the wheel turns this race? Romney’s been declared inevitable so many times, only to stumble, that it seems rash to make predictions. But this poll may actually mark the beginning of Romney’s final ascent to the nomination.

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Gingrich’s Criticism of Obama Response to Koran-Burning Is Way Off-Base

Newt Gingrich is way off-base in his criticism of President Obama’s response to the Koran-burning controversy in Afghanistan. The president sent an entirely proper letter of apology for the insensitive actions of American personnel who improperly disposed of Korans in a way that offends Muslim sensitivities. President Karzai responded properly too, criticizing the American actions but then accepting the American apology and trying to tamp down protests which have turned violent. For these actions, both men have gotten a double-barreled blast from the former House speaker and current presidential candidate. Politico quotes him as follows:

“It is an outrage that President Obama is the one apologizing to Afghan President Karzai on the same day two American troops were murdered and four others injured by an Afghan soldier,” the Republican candidate said in a statement. “It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around.”

The former House speaker continued his attack at a campaign rally in Spokane, Wash., charging that Obama had “surrendered twice” in one day, and demanded that the president request an apology from the Afghan government.

“Candidly, if Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, doesn’t feel like apologizing then we should say good bye and good luck, we don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn’t care,” Gingrich said.

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Newt Gingrich is way off-base in his criticism of President Obama’s response to the Koran-burning controversy in Afghanistan. The president sent an entirely proper letter of apology for the insensitive actions of American personnel who improperly disposed of Korans in a way that offends Muslim sensitivities. President Karzai responded properly too, criticizing the American actions but then accepting the American apology and trying to tamp down protests which have turned violent. For these actions, both men have gotten a double-barreled blast from the former House speaker and current presidential candidate. Politico quotes him as follows:

“It is an outrage that President Obama is the one apologizing to Afghan President Karzai on the same day two American troops were murdered and four others injured by an Afghan soldier,” the Republican candidate said in a statement. “It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around.”

The former House speaker continued his attack at a campaign rally in Spokane, Wash., charging that Obama had “surrendered twice” in one day, and demanded that the president request an apology from the Afghan government.

“Candidly, if Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, doesn’t feel like apologizing then we should say good bye and good luck, we don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn’t care,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich’s statements are ignorant and irresponsible. Obama deserves plenty of criticism for his actions in Afghanistan, namely his premature drawdown of U.S. forces and cutting funding for the Afghan Security Forces (see, e.g., my Los Angeles Times op-ed today) but not for this. It is hardly a “surrender” to apologize for insensitive actions by American personnel. As for Karzai, I don’t know what he should be apologizing for in Gingrich’s opinion–it’s not as if Karzai applauded the attacks on American troops which resulted from the Koran-burning controversy. In this incident his actions seem to me fairly proper, and the accusation that Karzai doesn’t “care” about the future of his own country is ludicrous.

Overall, Karzai has been a disappointing leader, but U.S. troops are not in Afghanistan as a favor to him–they are there to protect our national interest in not having Afghanistan once again become a safe haven for terrorists. That’s something that Gingrich, for all his background in national security policy, doesn’t seem to get.

 

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Contraception vs. Infanticide

Last night’s debate was not among the best we’ve seen, but there was one particularly memorable moment. It came to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich.

When the candidates were asked (from a pre-selected e-mail) about their views on contraception, Gingrich responded by saying, “I want to make two quick points, John [King]. The first is: There is a legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion activities which any religion opposes. That’s legitimate. But I just want to point out — not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.”

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Last night’s debate was not among the best we’ve seen, but there was one particularly memorable moment. It came to us courtesy of Newt Gingrich.

When the candidates were asked (from a pre-selected e-mail) about their views on contraception, Gingrich responded by saying, “I want to make two quick points, John [King]. The first is: There is a legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion activities which any religion opposes. That’s legitimate. But I just want to point out — not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.”

What Gingrich is referring to is that Barack Obama, as an Illinois state senator, opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. (For more, see this October 16, 2008 article, “Obama and Infanticide,” by Robert P. George and Yuval Levin.) The evidence clearly points to the fact that Obama, in the name of abortion rights, would not support laws against infanticide. It is a stand that remains even today both sickening and almost impossible to comprehend. And yet the entire universe of political reporters showed an amazing lack of curiosity (and certainly not an ounce of consternation or outrage) on this topic.

It’s so hard to imagine why.

The simple-minded among us might assume that many journalists, leaning very much to the left on social issues, are more offended when candidates express personal objections to contraception than when candidates oppose laws against infanticide. Those of us who are unsophisticated on these matters might even come to the conclusion that for reasons of ideology, many members of the press hyper-focus on contraception and completely ignore infanticide, an act one might think qualifies as morally problematic.

 

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Santorum Flops in the Debate Spotlight

After nine months on the periphery of the Republican race, tonight’s debate in Mesa, Arizona, was Rick Santorum’s opportunity to show he deserved to be considered a frontrunner. But instead of using the occasion to build on the surge that led him to the top of the national polls, the former senator flopped as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pounded him unmercifully from the start of the evening to its finish. By the end of the night, the grim look on his face betrayed the effect of having to explain his stands on issues such as earmarks, being a “team player” in the Senate and his support for Arlen Specter and “No Child Left Behind.” Whereas in previous debates, he had been on the attack pointing out Romney’s inconsistencies, in Mesa, it was his turn to be on the defensive.

Though Romney was far from brilliant and took his own lumps over his own hypocritical positions on earmarks and healthcare, there was little question he emerged the victor if only because Santorum came across as both long-winded and surly. If recent polls in Michigan showed the Pennsylvanian’s momentum was slowing, this debate may have put a period on his brief moment in the lead. A good night for Santorum might have helped put him over the top in Michigan and maybe even in Arizona next week and done irreparable harm to Romney’s hopes. But we may look back at this night and say this moment was not only when Santorum began to fade but also when Romney salted away the nomination.

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After nine months on the periphery of the Republican race, tonight’s debate in Mesa, Arizona, was Rick Santorum’s opportunity to show he deserved to be considered a frontrunner. But instead of using the occasion to build on the surge that led him to the top of the national polls, the former senator flopped as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pounded him unmercifully from the start of the evening to its finish. By the end of the night, the grim look on his face betrayed the effect of having to explain his stands on issues such as earmarks, being a “team player” in the Senate and his support for Arlen Specter and “No Child Left Behind.” Whereas in previous debates, he had been on the attack pointing out Romney’s inconsistencies, in Mesa, it was his turn to be on the defensive.

Though Romney was far from brilliant and took his own lumps over his own hypocritical positions on earmarks and healthcare, there was little question he emerged the victor if only because Santorum came across as both long-winded and surly. If recent polls in Michigan showed the Pennsylvanian’s momentum was slowing, this debate may have put a period on his brief moment in the lead. A good night for Santorum might have helped put him over the top in Michigan and maybe even in Arizona next week and done irreparable harm to Romney’s hopes. But we may look back at this night and say this moment was not only when Santorum began to fade but also when Romney salted away the nomination.

Ironically, it was on his weakest point — his position on contraception — that Santorum sounded the strongest when he parried a question on the issue and made the point that promiscuity and the breakdown of the family was doing great damage to society. No one on the stage disagreed with him on that.

Yet that was overshadowed by the way Santorum found himself getting buried on his Senate record of voting for spending bills and earmarks. Romney’s attack on this was, as Santorum pointed out, deeply hypocritical since he relied on congressional earmarks to fund the 2002 Winter Olympics that he led. But whatever good he did with that retort was lost by his angry replies to attacks on his record, especially the way he went along with the Senate leadership on a number of issues. Santorum was clearly exasperated by having to defend himself in this manner and it showed. He discovered it is a lot harder to score points in a debate when you are wearing the bull’s eye on your back that goes with being in the lead.

Santorum’s failure once again should allow Romney to vault back into the lead. It will also give him the momentum that may allow him to hold onto Michigan after falling behind there.

Newt Gingrich was back in strong debate form and even managed to do so while avoiding joining in the gang tackle of Santorum. Ron Paul also had a strong night belaboring Santorum on government spending from a purist point of view though whatever advantage he gained in the battle to avoid last place was lost by his attempt to rationalize Iran’s nuclear quest at the same time as the other three Republicans were uniting to blast President Obama’s failure to stop the Islamist regime.

But the only real winner was Romney, who was repeatedly able to take down the man who is leading him in Michigan. Rick Santorum had one shot at solidifying his status as a frontrunner but failed. The ripple effect of this defeat will be felt in every state where he hoped to compete.

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Leave it to Chris Christie

Leave it to Chris Christie to say what all the other Republican politicians are thinking, but don’t have the guts to say about Warren Buffett:

Piers Morgan: Warren Buffett keeps screaming to be taxed more.

Chris Christie: Yeah, well, he should just write a check and shut up. Really. And just contribute. Okay? I mean, the fact of the matter is, that I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he has the ability to write a check. Go ahead and write it.

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Leave it to Chris Christie to say what all the other Republican politicians are thinking, but don’t have the guts to say about Warren Buffett:

Piers Morgan: Warren Buffett keeps screaming to be taxed more.

Chris Christie: Yeah, well, he should just write a check and shut up. Really. And just contribute. Okay? I mean, the fact of the matter is, that I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he has the ability to write a check. Go ahead and write it.

It’s no wonder Christie is still being asked – by the public and media alike – whether he’ll reconsider and run for president. After a week of Rick Santorum’s gaffes, and Mitt Romney’s floundering, Christie’s interview with Piers Morgan only heightens the sense that the best Republican candidates are not in the race.

So what is it about Christie that makes him so likable, even when he’s taking shots at the opposition? And what exactly does he have that the presidential candidates are lacking?

Obviously there’s his confidence, the sense that he has a real comfort with his own beliefs. He’s grounded enough in his principles to actually listen to the critique from the other side, which is how he ends up cutting through the nonsense that a lot of other politicians overlook or get bogged down in. That solid foundation is missing in both Romney and Gingrich. For Romney, it means he can’t effectively articulate the principles he claims to believe in. For Gingrich, it means he switches sides without explanation when it’s politically opportune.

Gingrich and Santorum also seem to lack Christie’s faith in the rationality of the public. They condescend to voters. Gingrich often panders. Meanwhile, Santorum can come off as bitter and defensive during arguments, giving the impression that he feels his ideas are under siege by a large portion of the public who can’t be reasoned with.

Christie’s strengths are ones most lacking in the current field. And that’s why the calls for him to run won’t let up, even when it’s clearly not going to happen.

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Which Rick Shows Up Tonight in Arizona?

Tonight’s presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, is rightly be touted as a crucial moment in the Republican race. Much has changed in the weeks since the GOP candidates were brought together in front of the television cameras. Rick Santorum, whose strong showings in the Florida debates were not thought to signify any real hope of his being the nominee, is now leading in the national polls. Mitt Romney, who was hoping to create an aura of inevitability, is now struggling to stay ahead of Santorum in his home state of Michigan, and Newt Gingrich has sunk to last place in some surveys and must fight the belief he no longer has a ghost of a chance of victory.

But while Santorum will enjoy being in the center of the stage rather, as up until now he has been relegated to the sides, he will also have to cope with being the object of attacks from both Romney and Gingrich in a way that he has never had to deal with in the many debates that have preceded this one. While all the participants, save Ron Paul, have something to prove tonight, the outcome may turn largely on one question: which Rick Santorum shows up in Mesa? Will it be the confident, relaxed and personable Santorum who has done so well in the previous encounters and whose image is as a caring father and clean politician who is not willing to engage in mudslinging? Or will it be the angry culture warrior whose obsessions with gays, contraception and abortion have become the liberal caricature of conservatism in the last week?

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Tonight’s presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, is rightly be touted as a crucial moment in the Republican race. Much has changed in the weeks since the GOP candidates were brought together in front of the television cameras. Rick Santorum, whose strong showings in the Florida debates were not thought to signify any real hope of his being the nominee, is now leading in the national polls. Mitt Romney, who was hoping to create an aura of inevitability, is now struggling to stay ahead of Santorum in his home state of Michigan, and Newt Gingrich has sunk to last place in some surveys and must fight the belief he no longer has a ghost of a chance of victory.

But while Santorum will enjoy being in the center of the stage rather, as up until now he has been relegated to the sides, he will also have to cope with being the object of attacks from both Romney and Gingrich in a way that he has never had to deal with in the many debates that have preceded this one. While all the participants, save Ron Paul, have something to prove tonight, the outcome may turn largely on one question: which Rick Santorum shows up in Mesa? Will it be the confident, relaxed and personable Santorum who has done so well in the previous encounters and whose image is as a caring father and clean politician who is not willing to engage in mudslinging? Or will it be the angry culture warrior whose obsessions with gays, contraception and abortion have become the liberal caricature of conservatism in the last week?

Santorum will likely be pressed tonight to explain his views on all these issues as well as his views of Satan’s role in public life. The trick for him will be whether he can stick to his views on social issues without coming across as the sort of person whom mainstream America fears will impose his personal beliefs on the nation. Conservatives want a candidate who shares their values, but most Republicans understand the last thing their party needs is to allow the 2012 election to be a referendum on the culture war about sex rather than on President Obama’s failed record on the economy and foreign policy.

Until now, Santorum has had the luxury of being able to concentrate his energies on pointing out the hypocrisy of both Romney and Gingrich on Obamacare and highlighting the weaknesses in their stands on taxes and spending. Tonight it will be his turn to be the focus of attacks, and his reaction to this will be instructive. If he is able to avoid being sidetracked by attacks and to avoid sounding defensive, he can emerge even stronger and place himself in position for a sweep of both Arizona and Michigan.

But if he is goaded into showing us the less attractive side of his personality and comes across as the public scold who will provide Democrats with campaign fodder, it may signal the beginning of the end of his short stay at the top of the GOP race.

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Gingrich’s Transcendent Self-Regard

The Washington Post has a fascinating story based on an examination of papers collected over nearly three decades, documents compiled by a former Newt Gingrich aide and archived at the University of West Georgia, where Gingrich was an assistant professor in the 1970s. What they reveal, according to the Post, is “a politician of moderate-to-liberal beginnings, a product of the civil rights era who moved to the right with an eye on political expediency — and privately savaged Republicans he was praising in public. Even as he gained a reputation as a conservative firebrand, the documents show Gingrich was viewed by his staff primarily as a tactician — the ‘tent evangelist’ of the conservative movement, one staffer said — with little ideological core.”

There’s a lot to sort through, but two things in particular stood out to me. One is that Gingrich’s chief of staff in 1983, Frank Gregorsky, said (according to a transcript of a staff meeting) that Gingrich “assumed that he’s the whole Republican Party. He knows more than the president [Ronald Reagan], the president’s people, [Robert H.] Michel, [James] Baker. He calls them stupid all the time, and I think that’s going to get him into big trouble someday.”

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The Washington Post has a fascinating story based on an examination of papers collected over nearly three decades, documents compiled by a former Newt Gingrich aide and archived at the University of West Georgia, where Gingrich was an assistant professor in the 1970s. What they reveal, according to the Post, is “a politician of moderate-to-liberal beginnings, a product of the civil rights era who moved to the right with an eye on political expediency — and privately savaged Republicans he was praising in public. Even as he gained a reputation as a conservative firebrand, the documents show Gingrich was viewed by his staff primarily as a tactician — the ‘tent evangelist’ of the conservative movement, one staffer said — with little ideological core.”

There’s a lot to sort through, but two things in particular stood out to me. One is that Gingrich’s chief of staff in 1983, Frank Gregorsky, said (according to a transcript of a staff meeting) that Gingrich “assumed that he’s the whole Republican Party. He knows more than the president [Ronald Reagan], the president’s people, [Robert H.] Michel, [James] Baker. He calls them stupid all the time, and I think that’s going to get him into big trouble someday.”

And then there’s what Gingrich said in a 1979 address to his congressional staff: “When I say save the West, I mean that. That is my job. . . . It is not my job to win reelection. It is not my job to take care of passport problems. It is not my job to get a bill through Congress. My job description as I have defined it is to save Western civilization.”

None of this is surprising to many of those who have watched Gingrich during the years, especially those who have worked with him and for him. A man of transcendent self-regard, Gingrich views himself as a world-historical figure, our Horatius at the bridge, one of the few people standing between (in Gingrich’s words) “us and Auschwitz.”

The former House speaker possesses some considerable talents. But there is such a thing as presidential temperament. Gingrich doesn’t have it–not by a country mile–and therefore, he will never be president of the United States.

 

 

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Has Santorum Peaked Too Soon?

In a Republican presidential race in which no candidate has ever been able to hold onto a lead for more than a couple of weeks, it has been difficult to tell whether Rick Santorum’s recent surge would last until next week’s crucial Michigan primary. Santorum’s star has been rising ever since he swept the February 7 trifecta in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. But after a few days in which his hard line stands on social issues started to become the focus of mainstream media attention, what happens in the next week will tell us a lot about whether the Pennsylvanian has what it takes to become his party’s presidential nominee. The first indication that the Santorum tide may be ebbing a bit came yesterday with a Public Policy Polling survey that shows his lead in Michigan might be slipping.

PPP’s previous Michigan poll was an outlier in that it gave Santorum a 15-point lead in Romney’s birthplace, far more than others taken in the state (though all had Santorum ahead in the race). So Romney’s camp may take heart from the Democratic-leaning firm’s latest effort that shows him down by only a 37 to 33 percentage-point margin. Though PPP’s breakdown of the numbers doesn’t seem to show much leakage for Santorum because of the abuse he’s been taking about his views on religion and sex, Romney’s intensive campaigning in Michigan seems to have improved his numbers there. The question for Santorum is whether he can maintain his momentum now that he, rather than his opponent, is in the glare of the spotlight.

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In a Republican presidential race in which no candidate has ever been able to hold onto a lead for more than a couple of weeks, it has been difficult to tell whether Rick Santorum’s recent surge would last until next week’s crucial Michigan primary. Santorum’s star has been rising ever since he swept the February 7 trifecta in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. But after a few days in which his hard line stands on social issues started to become the focus of mainstream media attention, what happens in the next week will tell us a lot about whether the Pennsylvanian has what it takes to become his party’s presidential nominee. The first indication that the Santorum tide may be ebbing a bit came yesterday with a Public Policy Polling survey that shows his lead in Michigan might be slipping.

PPP’s previous Michigan poll was an outlier in that it gave Santorum a 15-point lead in Romney’s birthplace, far more than others taken in the state (though all had Santorum ahead in the race). So Romney’s camp may take heart from the Democratic-leaning firm’s latest effort that shows him down by only a 37 to 33 percentage-point margin. Though PPP’s breakdown of the numbers doesn’t seem to show much leakage for Santorum because of the abuse he’s been taking about his views on religion and sex, Romney’s intensive campaigning in Michigan seems to have improved his numbers there. The question for Santorum is whether he can maintain his momentum now that he, rather than his opponent, is in the glare of the spotlight.

The good news for Santorum is his net favorability numbers in Michigan have remained positive despite the increasingly negative attention his views on contraception and other social issues are starting to get. He’s still viewed positively by 67 percent of Republicans and negatively by only 23 percent. The difference between this week’s poll and last week’s is that for some reason Romney’s favorability has gone up by 10 points in that time. That’s a vital statistic for Romney. Up until now, it has been assumed the only way for him to do well was by trashing the reputations of other candidates as he did with Newt Gingrich in Iowa and Florida.

Romney has a huge lead over Santorum in money, a better organization and a truly national campaign that can be competitive across the country. But up until the recent spate of stories that have sought to portray Santorum as a rabid social conservative, Romney had seemed to be about to go into a free fall. Indeed, the latest Gallup tracking poll shows him trailing the former senator by a 36-28 point margin nationally.

But Romney has two key factors in his favor in the upcoming week.

One is the sheer volatility of the GOP race. Republicans have changed their minds more in the last nine months than anyone could have thought possible. Frontrunners have come and one with a shocking rapidity that should have taught political pundits to be wary of assuming that just because one candidate is up now that he will still be in the driver’s seat a week later. Santorum’s surge has been the result of dazzling timing that capitalized on his personal life (his daughter’s illness that generated sympathy for the candidate and shown a light on his image as a family man), the way Romney and Newt Gingrich eviscerated each other in dueling negative ad campaigns and President Obama’s attack on the Catholic Church that concentrated GOP minds on social issues. But a week can be a lifetime in politics. If the focus on abortion, gay rights and contraception helped Santorum in one sense, it is his Achilles’ heel in another as the media’s demonization of him can serve to remind Republicans that he will be brutalized by the left on these issues in a general election.

The other factor that gives Romney hope he can turn his current difficulties around is Newt Gingrich’s persistence. Gingrich may be motivated in large measure by his hatred of Romney as much as by his own ambition. But by hanging around even after it has become clear Gingrich is an afterthought in the race (he has fallen far behind and PPP has him in dead last trailing Ron Paul for third place by 5 percentage points for third place), the former speaker may prevent Santorum from sweeping the upcoming primaries. Romney’s success so far has been based on a divided conservative field, and so long as Gingrich stays in even at a diminished level, he makes it much more difficult for Santorum to win.

If the other Michigan polls in the next few days show a similar swing back to Romney, it may be a sign Santorum has peaked a bit too soon. The former Massachusetts governor may well weather the most difficult challenge to his candidacy yet.

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Adelson and Santorum Agree on Gambling

Last Thursday, Jim Geraghty speculated at National Review that Sheldon Adelson might have a business motive for his preferences in the Republican presidential race. Adelson has donated more than $10 million to keep Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive and has seemed to indicate he will support Mitt Romney if and when Gingrich throws in the towel. But Adelson doesn’t appear to be at all interested in Rick Santorum, the Republican who is currently leading in the national polls. That caused Geraghty to ponder whether Santorum’s opposition to gambling may be causing the casino mogul to want to keep Gingrich in the race so as to ensure that Santorum can’t beat Romney.

Given that Adelson’s priority is ensuring a strong pro-Israel alternative to President Obama and that Santorum is as solid a supporter of the Jewish state as Gingrich and Romney, Geraghty’s notion seemed logical. But this morning COMMENTARY received an e-mail letter-to-the-editor from Adelson’s office (in response to posts by Alana and myself on the subject of Santorum’s stand on gambling) that should debunk this thesis. It reads:

Regarding your February 16th article: “Santorum wants to ban gambling?”

I agree with Rick Santorum. I am in favor of the comment he made about destination casinos and I am, as he is, against any type of gaming on the Internet. You might also know I am not against Rick Santorum. I am in favor of Newt Gingrich.

Sheldon G. Adelson

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Last Thursday, Jim Geraghty speculated at National Review that Sheldon Adelson might have a business motive for his preferences in the Republican presidential race. Adelson has donated more than $10 million to keep Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive and has seemed to indicate he will support Mitt Romney if and when Gingrich throws in the towel. But Adelson doesn’t appear to be at all interested in Rick Santorum, the Republican who is currently leading in the national polls. That caused Geraghty to ponder whether Santorum’s opposition to gambling may be causing the casino mogul to want to keep Gingrich in the race so as to ensure that Santorum can’t beat Romney.

Given that Adelson’s priority is ensuring a strong pro-Israel alternative to President Obama and that Santorum is as solid a supporter of the Jewish state as Gingrich and Romney, Geraghty’s notion seemed logical. But this morning COMMENTARY received an e-mail letter-to-the-editor from Adelson’s office (in response to posts by Alana and myself on the subject of Santorum’s stand on gambling) that should debunk this thesis. It reads:

Regarding your February 16th article: “Santorum wants to ban gambling?”

I agree with Rick Santorum. I am in favor of the comment he made about destination casinos and I am, as he is, against any type of gaming on the Internet. You might also know I am not against Rick Santorum. I am in favor of Newt Gingrich.

Sheldon G. Adelson

This makes sense. After all, in the television interview in which Santorum state his opposition to the proliferation of casinos and Internet gambling, he made it clear he saw no problem with maintaining Las Vegas and Atlantic City as the two enclaves of legalized gaming. More legal gambling undermines Adelson’s business interests.

But I think the real mistake here is in attempting to re-interpret Adelson’s politics through the lens of his business rather than his beliefs. Adelson’s political and charitable contributions have never been primarily motivated by promoting his casino businesses but by his ardent and principled backing for the state of Israel. It was Gingrich’s decades-long stand on backing Israel that brought him together with Adelson. If Romney is Adelson’s second choice, it is almost certainly because he, like many other Republicans, believes the former Massachusetts governor has a better chance of beating Barack Obama in November.

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