By Elvin Lim
The Republican establishment is stepping up its attacks against Gingrich. It was coordinated today from a variety of quarters: Bob Dole, Peter Wehner, Tom Delay, William Buckley Jr., and Anne Coulter.The very reason why Gingrich appeals to primary voters is the reason why he will not do well with independents voters in the fall. (And that’s an assessment coming from Anne Coulter.) Gingrich has fire, but placed alongside No Drama Obama, he’s going to look like a very unlikeable candidate. There’s hardly anyone who has worked closely with the former Speaker who has endorsed him — which tells us a lot about the guy. In the era of televisual politics, a bitter old man is not going to beat a likeable (or even less competent, if that is what Obama is) younger man. The Establishment from either party talks the talk of the virtue of debates, grassroots activism and decision-making, but in the end they care more about winning and nominating the most electable candidate than a tip of the hat to primary voters and “democracy.”
The fact that a coordinated strategy against Gingrich is happening within party ranks conveniently on the eve of the last debate before the Florida primary is particularly striking given that Gingrich doesn’t really have a fall back plan beyond Florida. Romney took a landslide victory in Nevada, the next state up in the primary calendar, back in 2008, so it is difficult to imagine that Gingrich would be able to pull an upset there, or in Arizona or Michigan on February 28.
But everything changes if Gingrich wins in Florida. Then the momentum will keep him going until Super Tuesday on March 6 when the South speaks and Gingrich will rise; and civil war will erupt in the Republican party. The Establishment will do everything to thwart him there, and that is why they are taking no chances and are already making headway. Mitt Romney’s superior debate performance tonight was also a reflection of a campaign in full knowledge that the Florida firewall must not fall.
A few days after the President’s State of the Union address, hardly anyone is talking about it because Obama’s fate in November will depend more on forces he cannot control than on anything he can do. Every single poll out there placing Gingrich and Obama in a head-to-head match gives the election to Obama — by a 12 point spread on average. If the Republican primary electorate delivers Gingrich to Obama, even Bob Dole and William Buckley think it’s going to be four more years.
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.