Eye of Newt
Photo by Patrick Gensel, subject to this creative commons license
Newt Gingrich’s blowout win in South Carolina left Democrats giddy and national Republican leaders morose. The thought of running against a candidate with with sky high negatives in national polls had Obama aids laughing last night. Romney’s loss of the “inevitable” label and his curious stumbles in the week before the primary also brought joy to the west wing.
National Republican leaders who thought that while their field of Presidential contenders was weak they had one candidate, in Romney, who could mount a viable national campaign are now wondering. Romney, never embraced by the party’s base, now seems to have lost his appeal to independents and moderates (he even lost women). His remarkable collapse despite his superior ground game and financial advantage has raised uncomfortable worries in the upper echelons of the Republican party. Their eyes now turn to Florida and they hope for a convincing Romney victory.
But before we liberals jump up and down and clap our hands, we need to consider an alarming possibility. What if the Republican convention becomes deadlocked. With two weak candidates, and with neither of them having majority of delegates or any real support, a dark horse could crash the convention and end up with the nomination.
With an entirely fresh face, a candidate who could galvanize the grateful Republican base, the Republicans might find themselves with a strong chance to win the White House and Congress. Obama and the Democratic party would have less than three months to run against the new shiny Republican saviour. With little vetting, and benefitting from a still anemic economy, the Republican could shoulder his (or her) way into the White House.
Who could the dark horse be? A conservative governor would be the most likely choice, someone like Bobby Jindal or Jon Kasich. Add a red meat conservative as the VP candidate – Paul Ryan? – and the Republicans could field a strong ticket. With no primary damage to repair, the pair could slide through the campaign uttering only empty platitudes and hash attacks on Obama.
How likely is the above scenario? Who knows. The Republican race has been one surprise after another. The smart money remains on Romney. He has the best organization and the most money. If Gingrich had only won South Carolina by a point or two I’d share the view Romney would still win the nomination with ease. But the twelve point victory, particularly given the fact Gingrich was ten points down only ten days or so before the election, gives me pause. As most of the ten thousand political pundits have pointed out, no Republican has won the nomination without winning the South Carolina primary in a long, long time. The prospect of Romney’s downfall is still something of a long shot, but the odds are considerably better than they were two weeks ago. If Gingrich can win Florida, or come close, real panic will set in the Romney camp.
How good is all this for Obama? It remains to be seen; but we need to be careful what we wish for…