There are all kinds of commentaries today about how the contest for the GOP nomination refuses to follow any known pattern. Nate Silver says that it hasn’t broken all known patterns just yet, but if Florida breaks for Gingrich next week, “all bets are off.”
Josh Marshall says pretty much the same thing —
My best guess is that Gingrich will come on strong or even win Florida. And itâ€™ll be bad for Mitt for a while. But eventually Mitt and really the GOP establishment will just grind him down. Do I know that? Not at all. Unless Mitt can totally shut Gingrich down in Florida, itâ€™s really all bets are off territory.
Conventional wisdom on the Left is that the GOP establishment won’t let Newt win, in fear that he will be a drag on congressional tickets as well as lose to Obama. But if Romney can’t close the deal, who is going to stop him?
Truly, about the only chance the Right has of winning the White House in November is if in July they pick someone entirely off the radar (Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!) and then keep that guy hidden in a box so the voters can’t get a good look at him before November.
Newt Gingrich didnâ€™t just beat Romney in South Carolina, he crushed him. Even among those predicting a win for the disgraced former House Speaker, few saw a 12.6-point victory coming. South Carolina has 46 counties, and Gingrich won 44 of them. After losing every congressional district in the state, Romney emerges from this contest with exactly zero delegates.*
Put it this way: in less than a week, Romney managed to turn a double-digit lead into a double-digit defeat, despite an aggressive effort and nearly $5 million in investments. Thatâ€™s not an easy feat to pull off.
Whatâ€™s remarkable is how often this seems to happen. As weak as this yearâ€™s Republican field has proved, itâ€™s not that much weaker than a number of recent presidential vintages, from the Democratsâ€™ lineups in 1988 and 2004 to the Republican field in 1996. In presidential politics, the great talents (a Clinton, a Reagan) seem to be the exception; a march of Dole-Dukakis-Mondale mediocrity is closer to the rule.
However, I well remember in 1992 that the pundit commentary on the Democratic field was all about whether Mario Cuomo would run. The lot of the television bobbleheads didn’t seem to think the other Democrats running were worthy of their attention. Oh, but if only Mario Cuomo would run, it would be a real race!
Of course Cuomo didn’t run, and Bill Clinton won instead, and now in retrospect Clinton is seen as a political powerhouse. But that’s not what the pundits saw in 1992. And also in retrospect, the Democratic field in 1992 (which included Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown, Paul Tsongas, Bob Kerrey, Douglas Wilder, Eugene McCarthy, and Tom Harkin) looks pretty respectable to me. Nowhere near the walking freak show we’re getting now from the GOP.
The truth is, the last several presidential elections cycles have seen the Republicans scramble for someone they could clean up and present as a credible candidate. Remember who ran in 2000? The only reason Dubya came across as electable is that the entire GOP and right-run media packaged him to look like something he never was, an intelligent adult.
There’s not enough lipstick in the world to make any of the current contenders presentable in a general election, IMO, and it’s too late for the GOP establishment to re-package any of them. They need to find a whole new product.