By Nick DAngelo
Solidifying what we all knew was near inevitable, the Republican primary voters in the Sunshine State handed over their 50 convention delegates to former-Governor Mitt Romney last Tuesday. It was a needed win for Romney, who suffered an embarrassing loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina after a series of poor debate performances and sloppy answers on his personal income. Nevada followed suit this past weekend, with Romney winning a 2-1 victory over the former House speaker.
During his Contemporary Presidency course, Professor Cliff Brown, the Political Science Department Chair, discusses the psychology and mathematics behind the nominating process. While the first five events hold less than 15 percent of total delegates, the psychology of inevitability can form behind the biggest winner. After his New Hampshire primary win, the psychology seemed to be cementing solidly behind Romney. South Carolina erased everything and served as yet another game changer. As Brown will tell you, though, South Carolina was a bounce, not a shift—a temporary surge of support based on pure momentum. What a candidate does with that momentum can make or break their next performance. Newt lost it.
Where did Newt Gingrich go wrong? After all, like him or not, this is a man who knows something about political strategy. He conducted his own upset victory to Congress in the 1970’s and was a key orchestrator of the historic 1994 Republican wave. He is a veteran of politics and policy, but none of that experience seemed to make a difference. His mistakes can be placed in three categories: (1) bad debates (2) negativity and (3) the establishment.
What has mattered in 2012 more than any other year has been the televised debates—there will be 23 by the time the process is over. Until Florida, Gingrich had been the King of the One-Liners and the undeniable master of oratory. During both Florida debates, Gingrich exuberated a nasty mixture of exhaustion and overconfidence. The setting that had become his greatest asset became his most devastating liability in the end.
In 1999, the New York Daily News published a cartoon of Speaker Gingrich as a portly baby in a diaper, throwing a tantrum, bottle in hand. The headline read: “He shut down the government because Clinton made him sit at back of plane.” The reference was to the government shutdown by Gingrich, which he later admitted, according to the Fiscal Times, he did out of “spite” to President Clinton for giving him a poor seat on Air Force One.
Florida voters received another taste of Gingrich at his worst during the last few weeks of the primary campaign. He hammered Romney over negative ads, but
cast the governor as a liberal and a liar, and consistently trashed his business record. Part of “the Negative Campaign” is to actively work against your opponent’s attacks—Gingrich didn’t do this. He allowed Romney to define him, and even may have helped by looking spiteful and angry. It is clear that even after Florida and Nevada, with the momentum squarely behind Romney, Gingrich has a new goal. If he cannot be President of the United States, then neither will the Massachusetts Moderate.
Finally, despite being part of the Washington establishment for decades, Gingrich is still an unwelcomed member. After South Carolina, his largest critics became those within the Republican Party, including commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
Many Republicans fear what a Gingrich nomination would do to down-ticket candidates, especially during a time when Republicans are poised to maintain the House, gain the Senate and widen its lead in governorships. New York Republicans know full well what a weak leader looks like. In 2010, the NYGOP could have gained two more congressional districts, a more solid State Senate majority and potentially the Comptroller’s office, had our gubernatorial nominee not been baseball-bat-wielding Carl Paladino. The top of the ticket matters.
1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole, who served as Majority Leader, Gingrich’s counterpart in the U.S. Senate during his speakership, joined the critics. “If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway,” Dole said.
Dole has consistently said that Gingrich’s government shutdown severely handicapped his chances at beating President Clinton in 1996. But Dole wasn’t the only Republican Big Wig who may have had his political obituary written by Gingrich. Former-President George H.W. Bush maintains that Gingrich double-crossed him during Democratic negotiations on budget and tax deals in 1990, contributing to his 1992 defeat. These Good Ol’ Boys may be old, but they’re not gone yet and they’re out for revenge.
Mitt Romney has not been the ideal Republican nominee that we were hoping for. He lacks passion and enthusiasm, comes complete with a hefty big business resume and matching net-worth at a time when society frowns on wealth, and can point to a term as governor that, while marginally successful, was not quintessentially conservative. But the Republican Party is one that honors its own and also honors the longest standing, or those who are next up to be nominee—just like George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain. But Romney may have been helped most by the performance of Newt Gingrich.
In 1992, Bush would have told you that Gingrich gave us Clinton. In 1996, Dole would have confirmed that. In 2012, as Newt prepares to dismantle any chance of defeating Barack Obama, Romney may be joining that group.