Just when you think, as I did for the last couple weeks, that the GOP nomination contest was effectively over, along come events that shake things up and make you think that maybe, just maybe, Romney may yet be derailed. Who would have thought, two or three months ago, that Perry and Cain would be gone by now, but that Rick Santorum would still be standing and in the hunt, having put up overtime points on the board with a belated win in the Iowa caucuses? (Though really, can we please ditch the sweater vest in the Florida primary?) Then, too, Romney was weak in the debate last weekend, and has badly flubbed the issue of his income taxes, and is still unsteady in his defense of Bain Capital.
But of course the real story continues to be Newt, who had yet another “I paid for this microphone!” moment in last night’s debate. At some point, by the way, I wonder if any of the owners and senior editors of the mainstream media outlets that are all slowly losing their audiences will spend an introspective moment pondering whether it is a problem for them that a large faction of the country simply hates them and does not trust them? Nah—what am I thinking?
But back to Newt. As satisfying as his repeated smackdowns of the debate moderators is, we should pause and question the idea it is implanting in conservatives that even if Newt couldn’t win, we’d like to go with a champion who would match up well against Obama in the fall debates. First, as has been suggested by several people already, there will likely only be three debates (who thinks Obama would agree to Newt’s idea for a series of Lincoln-Douglass style debates?). Opinion is divided among political analysts as to whether presidential debates are decisive; a couple of exceptions come to mind—Nixon-Kennedy obviously, and maybe Reagan-Carter—but generally they may not make that much difference.
A second worry is that the “Newt will be Muhammad Ali to Obama’s Jerry Quarry” idea will backfire, by building up unrealistic expectations that Newt will deliver a clean knockout to Obama. I doubt it. Obama will likely find ways of getting under Newt’s skin, and the inflated expectations might also cause Newt’s own sense of self to go into overdrive. The whole thing could backfire badly. Recall the 2000 debates. Everyone thought Al Gore was going to clobber George W. Bush. Didn’t work out that way.
Finally, the one thing Newt might have added to his answer to John King is something like, “I have learned the value of being Clintonian in running for president,” just for the grins and giggles of how the media would handle that. In any case, it looks like Newt might well win South Carolina tomorrow, after which Florida will become more interesting.
Today is January 20, inauguration day. Start your one-year countdown clock.
By the way, start another shorter countdown: 24 days. I’ll drop more hints about this in due course.