The Gingrich Tide Recedes, or the Empire Strikes Back

A new Quinnipiac University survey shows Mitt Romney, fresh on the heels of a big debate performance Thursday night, reversing the momentum of Newt Gingrich and taking a lead in Florida. Quinnipiac has Romney opening up a 38% to 29% lead over Gingrich, with Ron Paul at 14% and Rick Santorum at 12%. Santorum has retired to his home in PA, saying he is “exhausted and broke”, while Ron Paul has largely bypassed this state.

Gingrich, throughout the campaign, has made his mark through the debates. Since Mitt Romney has substantially more in terms of organization and money Gingrich has managed to win support by providing the type of red meat and in your face debating pugilism that has endeared him to Republican primary voters. But Thursday night Mitt Romney, with the help of new debate coach Brett O’Donnell, simply laid a can of asswhup on Gingrich, both countering the Gingrich attacks and launching effective and devastating counter-attacks of his own. Romney was so effective that he had Gingrich calling for a “truce” during the debate, which Romney turned down by further skewering Gingrich. It was Romney’s most effective debate since the Gingrich rise, stalling Gingrich’s string of solid debate performances and giving Romney needed momentum heading into the critical Florida primary. The latest poll numbers reflect this new Romney momentum, and likely spell the beginning of the end of the Gingrich candidacy.

Gingrich has reacted with more scorched earth, including the new video attached below that pummels Romney on the issue of Medicare fraud. But the Republican establishment, panicked at the thought of a Gingrich nomination, has now joined the fray with gusto, lining up solidly with Romney, fearing a Gingrich nomination will not only cost them the Presidency but will create Republican carnage down-ticket. The latest to pummel Gingrich? Bob Dole, Republican nominee in 1996, let loose on him in an “open letter” published by National Review online:

Gingrich had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall. He loved picking a fight with President Clinton because he knew this would get the attention of the press. This and a myriad of other specifics like shutting down the government helped to topple Gingrich in 1998.

In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I’m not certain he knew either.

So the weight of the Romney machine is beginning to wear Gingrich down. But even with the “establishment” help Romney still leaves a bad taste in the mouth of much of the Republican base. And despite Republican charges that Democrats are engaging in “class warfare” it looks to me like the Republicans have a bit of class warfare of their own going on, with lower income Tea Party folks lining up against Romney, while the wealthier “country club” types line up with him. Gingrich has both recognized the wedge, and exploited it masterfully. While Dole came out swinging against Gingrich, Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin has decried Gingrich’s treatment at the hands of the Republican establishment:

But this whole thing isn’t really about Newt Gingrich vs. Mitt Romney. It is about the GOP establishment vs. the Tea Party grassroots and independent Americans who are sick of the politics of personal destruction used now by both parties’ operatives with a complicit media egging it on. In fact, the establishment has been just as dismissive of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Newt is an imperfect vessel for Tea Party support, but in South Carolina the Tea Party chose to get behind him instead of the old guard’s choice. In response, the GOP establishment voices denounced South Carolinian voters with the same vitriol we usually see from the left when they spew hatred at everyday Americans “bitterly clinging” to their faith and their Second Amendment rights. The Tea Party was once again told to sit down and shut up and listen to the “wisdom” of their betters. We were reminded of the litany of Tea Party endorsed candidates in 2010 who didn’t win. Well, here’s a little newsflash to the establishment: without the Tea Party there would have been no historic 2010 victory at all.

I think Sarah Palin has it right. Mitt Romney (and the old guard) is indeed telling her and her supporters to sit down and shut up. And it is their intent to roll straight over them if they do not “listen to the wisdom of their betters”. Romney could not be bothered with the Palin hoi polloi, and they well know it. So the Romney Death Star moves closer to a win in Florida, but Gingrich is burning the land in retreat. Will Romney have anything to build on after victory?

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