Gingrich is surging in the polls and, with Cain’s new issue and possible withdrawal,, Gingrich stands to gain even more in the short-term, but I still don’t expect it to last. The problem of stopping Gingrich is insistent, but it is insistent for the right-of-Romney candidates not named Gingrich. With Cain’s collapse, it is going to become in most everybody’s interest (except for John Hunstsman) to go after Gingrich. Bachmann, Santorum, and Perry have the incentive to go after Gingrich as a pro-mandate, pro-cap-and-trade pr0-embryonic stem cell research, pro-amnesty (well, not Perry on this last one) Washington insider. Romney has an interest in preventing Gingrich from consolidating the right-of-Romney vote so he will go at Gingrich on amnesty and remind people that Gingrich has no executive experience and that Gingrich’s private sector experience is limited to phony baloney/crony capitalist/influence peddling payoffs as a “consultant” and “historian” for companies with interests in front of Congress.
It isn’t going to matter at first. Like Peter said, a substantial fraction of the Republican primary electorate has given its heart to Gingrich. We’ve seen this before. I remember when a) Cain and gotten hot and b) he started making major flubs and c) the sexual harassment charges and come out and d) he was taking serious heat on 9-9-9. His numbers held up – for a while. What I found interesting was the rationalizations I heard on talk radio and read on the internet. They could be summed up along the following lines:
1. Sure Cain said [insert flub here], but Obama is a moron who thinks that there are 57 states and can’t go to the bathroom unless he is reading the instructions off a teleprompter.
2. The sexual harassment charges are a fake attack by the lying liberal media who are trying to destroy a real conservative. And even if they are true, Clinton was accused of sexual harassment and even rape so everybody should just get off Cain’s back.
3. People say 9-9-9 is a middle-class tax increase but Cain says it isn’t. Cain is a real businessman outsider conservative straight talker and I believe him over a bunch of liberal journalists, RINOs, and pencil neck number crunchers who probably never had to make a payroll.
But his numbers, after a delay, faded even though he didn’t make any new flubs that were worse than his old flubs (and even before the story about the affair.)
I was driving home from work today and I was listening to a local conservative talk show. The host was talking to a caller. The host pointed out that Gingrich had taken shady money from Freddie Mac. The caller argued that Gingrich had been unemployed and needed the money. He meant that as a defense. It reminded me of that Simpsons episode when Abe Simpson said “During the Depression you had to grift. It was either that or work.”
I don’t take the caller’s defense of Gingrich to be invincible obtuseness. I take it to be an expression of goodwill. That goodwill is a substantial but perishable asset. Gingrich (like Cain) didn’t build up that goodwill overnight. There wasn’t just his earlier career as Speaker. There were all those earlier debate performances when Gingrich heroically upbraided the liberal media questioners for asking questions about just about anything they asked (I kid, but even my moderate Republican wife though he sounded serious and magnanimous in his refusal to attack the other candidates.) The goodwill Gingrich built won’t be eroded overnight. If the Iowa Caucuses were being held next week, it wouldn’t matter what anybody said or did. Gingrich would win. But just like with Cain, seeing Gingrich attacked by more consistently conservative candidates for his very real policy deviations will take their toll over time. Bachmann will be there to remind us that she sponsored a bill to repeal the Obamacare mandate while Gingrich wanted to force all Americans to buy health insurance. Romney could point out that while he was for a state-level mandate, he never tried to violate the Constitution by supporting an unconstitutional federal health insurance purchase mandate unlike a certain lifetime professional politician. And so on. Gingrich’s problem is that there is still plenty of time for the attacks to take their toll and the goodwill he has built up to erode.
Still, the mass self-deception at the heart of the Cain and Gingrich booms is unsettling.