Rasmussen now shows Gingrich behind Romney in Iowa and the trend lines are pretty bad. The process stories are no longer about his amazing comeback and how brilliant he is. They are about how his support is soft, and how his Iowa operation is feeble and how he isn’t spending enough time in Iowa. Momentum is a cruel mistress. I’ve always (well, since the Gingrich surge) thought something like this would happen.
But…Gingrich might be declining at just the right time for Gingrich. This was always going to happen if his opponents were minimally competent. He still has tonight’s debate to start his way back. If this decline were happening two weeks from now he would be toast. He has a chance to use the debate to portray himself as a victim of the establishment pointyheaded weenies who can’t stand a real transformational conservative. And he NEEDS the other Republicans to lay off him a little (since he is on the way down anyway), and not challenge his alibis on all his flip-flops and business dealings. If they mostly ignore Gingrich and focus on each other, Gingrich could go back to running against the liberal media (presumably including FOX News and National Review), tell preposterous stories about himself, and generally pretend to be the above-it-all, visionary, brainiac, futurist, super-statesman. He is good at that. What he needs is for the other Republicans to give him the space to get off the mat.
If they are smart, they won’t give it to him, but the incentives are changing. In the last debate, it was imperative for everybody not named Gingrich or Huntsman to bring Gingrich down. If Gingrich didn’t go down, nothing else mattered. So Gingrich faced a gang attack, and despite all the positive commentary from the national media, it hurt him. Now it is in every other candidate’s interest to have someone else finish Gingrich off while they themselves stay above it all. That means Gingrich might get fewer attacks. Or maybe Romney just needs to rip Gingrich apart for what happened on Saturday. And maybe Bachmann needs to distinguish her own outsider authenticity by drawing sharp contrasts between herself and the insider/sellout Gingrich. Same thing with Santorum and Perry. Ron Paul will be Ron Paul.