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Ed Ross | Monday, December 5, 2011

Newt Gingrich is the shooting-star-of-the-month Republican candidate for president. He’s proclaimed himself the front runner based on the polls; and it must be true because all the other Republican candidates have begun criticizing him. But can the chubby, twice divorced, former Speaker of the House with an attitude and a record in politics longer than Moses' trek in the desert win the Republican nomination and the 2012 election? The answer to both questions is yes, and here’s why.

Republican primary voters have been looking for a nominee like people shopping for a new suit. They see one on the rack that looks great, and they try it on only to discover it doesn’t fit right. They take it off and try on another, looking at themselves in the mirror and asking their shopping companions for their opinions only to get mixed reviews because there is one thing or another wrong with the suit. They repeat the process until, ignoring their companions opinions altogether, they find one that isn’t perfect, but it’s satisfying enough that they buy it.

Mitt Romney is like the suit that looks great on the rack but doesn’t fit right. Romney has issues different groups of Republican voters are uncomfortable with. Some don’t like his “flip-flopping” on issues like abortion. Others don’t believe he’s been able to explain away Romney Care. Evangelical Christians are uncomfortable with his Mormon religion. Yet others say he talks like a conservative, but when it comes to appointing judges to the federal bench and the Supreme Court, resisting Democrats’ big-government programs, and leading the country to make difficult choices, they aren’t confident they can predict what he would do.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Rick Perry, and businessman Herman Cain are the second, third, and fourth suits that shoppers like until their friends pick them apart. In each case it's because there are doubts about their ability to withstand the relentless onslaught of the Obama campaign in the general election. Cain has suspended his campaign, so he’s no longer a choice in any event.

Newt Gingrich increasingly is looking like the suit that shoppers will decide to buy. He’s not a perfect fit, but Republican voters have to choose a new suit, and Gingrich, of the candidates available, is the one they appear to be most comfortable with. Largely due to his performance in the debates, he has emerged as the current not-Romney front runner. It’s not that Romney can’t defeat Barack Obama; indeed, he may be the best candidate to challenge the President. It’s that increasingly it looks like Gingrich also can win, and Republicans believe he is the more conservative candidate.

Newt has his flaws and he is often his own worst enemy. His comment on legalizing illegal immigrants that have been in the United States for decades, for example, may cost him with conservative voters; and Gingrich’s lack of a campaign organization and fund raising could be his Achilles' heel. Nevertheless, Newt could well emerge from the Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina contests with a lead and momentum that Romney and the remaining candidates can’t overtake; and that would lead to his winning the nomination.

So what would Gingrich, or Romney for that matter, have to do to win the 2012 election? Here a sports analogy is appropriate. Like an Olympic skater, he has to avoid a fall that loses him points and keeps him from winning first place.

Barack Obama can’t win the election with the strategy he used in 2008. If he counts solely on his performance to hope-and-change music, he’ll lose. He’ll run a negative campaign, Chicago style, like the one he ran in Illinois when he won his Senate seat. His operatives and supporters will attempt to do politically to Newt Gingrich what Tanya Harding’s ex-husband and his friends attempted to do physically to Nancy Kerrigan when one of them clubbed Kerrigan in the knee just before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

For Gingrich to defeat President Obama he’d have to keep the president on defense as much as possible while deflecting attacks by the liberal news media, bloggers, so called independent issue advocacy groups, and Obama’s Chicago political hit-man David Axelrod.

The debates will play an important role. They’re like the news conferences before the championships that pump up the fans. Gingrich wants to engage the president in a series of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates because he’s confident he has the debating advantage. Obama is a great orator when he has a teleprompter, but he is often hesitant and less well-spoken when he is debating. President Obama, therefore, isn’t likely to accept Gingrich’s challenge but insist on the three traditional presidential debates. In either case, they should break ratings records.

Finally, a state by state assessment the Electoral College vote suggests that Obama has a problem. Electoral votes shifted from blue states to red states as a result of the 2010 census. And many swing states Obama won in 2008—Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada—are now trending Republican; independent voters have abandoned Obama in droves.

The bottom line is that if Gingrich wins the Republican nomination, he can win the 2012 election. Most Republicans weren’t keen on Gingrich at the outset; but the more they listen to him the more like what he has to say and the more they see him as the not-Romney they want to keep. But we’re not at that point yet. The shoppers are still in the fitting room and the championships don’t begin until Republicans select their nominee next August. If Gingrich ramps up his organization and fund raising fast enough, performs well in the Iowa caucus and the early primaries, and doesn't sustain a knee injury (self-inflicted or otherwise) he may just be our next president.


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