By Elvin Lim
With so many candidates moving in and out of frontrunner status in the Republican nomination race in the past months, it would appear that the winner of the game of musical chairs could simply be determined by when the music stops. And it stops on January 3, when the Iowa caucuses meet.
Whether or not there has been a method to the madness, with less than a month to go, it would appear that Newt Gingrich has a commanding advantage to take the seat. New polls show Gingrich overtaking frontrunner Mitt Romney in the key states of Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. Assuming Romney takes New Hampshire, Gingrich looks set to take three of the first four contests. He would then look like a formidable frontrunner by the end of January.
Whether or not Gingrich will hold on to his lead will turn on whether and how much Democrats and the press decide to publicize his history of ethics violations and his prior experience as an alleged lobbyist. It will also depend on the effect of Gingrich’s rather hasty acceptance of Donald Trump’s invitation to host a debate for the Republican candidates, most of whom have wisely declined. Finally, Gingrich’s fate rests on how soon the supporters of Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann join the Gingerich bandwagon. The longer the second-tier candidates stay on the campaign trail, the more likely Romney would be able to use his own considerable resources to fight on by a war of financial attrition.
It appears that the DNC ad on Mitt v. Mitt, timed to coincide with the implosion of the Herman Cain campaign, could be working. Meanwhile, a story just broke that electronic records of Romney’s gubernatorial administrations were deleted when he left office. Coordinated by the White House or not, David Plouffe must be delirious with the possibility of a Gingrich nomination, but he’s probably taking no chances. In Kansas this Tuesday, President Obama delivered his inaugural 2012 campaign speech, making clear that he anticipates that the central issue of the upcoming election to be the debate about the role and size of government. Why give this speech now? Perhaps because the White House hopes that Republicans who cannot forgive Mitt Romney for “Obamaneycare” will place their hopes on Gingrich.
And if that happens, Obama would be feeling a whole lot more secure about his seat at the Oval Office through 2016.
Elvin Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears here each week.