This should have been Gingrich’s message at the debate last night. Like I said in the preview thread, I thought it would be. He got a second look in South Carolina by venting resentment at Elites on the left (in the persons of Juan Williams and John King), so why not try for a third look in Florida by venting at Elites on the right in the persons of Ann Coulter and Matt Drudge, etc? Newt’s not an appealing enough candidate in his own right to overcome all of Romney’s money, organization, and Beltway support. I think he thinks he is — this is why he lets it all hang out on lunar bases, for example — but on the merits he’s probably a 25 percent candidate. The obvious way to build on that is to reframe the campaign as a grand expression of populist grievance against a diabolical machine. He made that point well enough yesterday while out on the stump, but when it came time for the big debate, … nothing. Probably too late now, but Palin’s going to do her best to drag him across the finish line:
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 that 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 spoke up before the South Carolina primary to urge voters there to keep this primary going because I have great concern about the GOP establishment trying to anoint a candidate without the blessing of the grassroots and all the needed energy and resources we as commonsense constitutional conservatives could bring to the general election in order to defeat President Obama. Now, I respect Governor Romney and his success. But there are serious concerns about his record and whether as a politician he consistently applied conservative principles and how this impacts the agenda moving forward. The questions need answers now. That is why this primary should not be rushed to an end. We need to vet this. Pundits in the Beltway are gleefully proclaiming that this primary race is over after Florida, despite 46 states still not having chimed in. Well, perhaps it’s possible that it will come to a speedy end in just four days; but with these questions left unanswered, it will not have come to a satisfactory conclusion. Without this necessary vetting process, the unanswered question of Governor Romney’s conservative bona fides and the unanswered and false attacks on Newt Gingrich will hang in the air to demoralize many in the electorate. The Tea Party grassroots will certainly feel disenfranchised and disenchanted with the perceived orchestrated outcome from self-proclaimed movers and shakers trying to sew this all up. And, trust me, during the general election, Governor Romney’s statements and record in the private sector will be relentlessly parsed over by the opposition in excruciating detail to frighten off swing voters. This is why we need a fair primary that is not prematurely cut short by the GOP establishment using Alinsky tactics to kneecap Governor Romney’s chief rival.
As I said in my speech in Iowa last September, the challenge of this election is not simply to replace President Obama. The real challenge is who and what we will replace him with. It’s not enough to just change up the uniform. If we don’t change the team and the game plan, we won’t save our country. We truly need sudden and relentless reform in Washington to defend our republic, though it’s becoming clearer that the old guard wants anything but that. That is why we should all be concerned by the tactics employed by the establishment this week. We will not save our country by becoming like the left. And I question whether the GOP establishment would ever employ the same harsh tactics they used on Newt against Obama. I didn’t see it in 2008. Many of these same characters sat on their thumbs in ‘08 and let Obama escape unvetted. Oddly, they’re now using every available microscope and endoscope – along with rewriting history – in attempts to character assassinate anyone challenging their chosen one in their own party’s primary. So, one must ask, who are they really running against?
Somewhere Philip Klein is marveling at the irony of Newt being the victim of Alinsky tactics. Follow the link up top for the full piece, including a summary of yesterday’s back and forth on Newt and Reagan. This is smart politics from Palin by any measure: Gingrich has fallen far enough behind Romney in Florida that no one expects a comeback now, especially after last night’s debate washout. If he does come back, she’ll get tons of credit for making this last-minute pitch for him. If he doesn’t, no one will blame her for not being able to work an eleventh-hour miracle. Meanwhile, this sets her up perfectly for her big CPAC speech a few weeks from now and then for the rest of the campaign as a populist foil for Romney if he’s the nominee. In theory Gingrich should play that role as the vanquished opponent, but Palin’s a much bigger draw and seems more willing than even Newt is to treat the race as a pure “establishment versus grassroots” death struggle. Imagine how eager the media will be to hear from her during the general when, not if, Romney starts to inch back towards the center to try to capture independents from Obama.
One question, though. Is it true that tea partiers will “certainly feel disenfranchised and disenchanted” if Romney’s establishment pals help him wrap this up early? I posted this Fox News data set the other day but let me post it again here:
Because tea partiers are the fiercest opponents on the right to a second Obama term, they’re also — so far — more willing than mainstream Republicans to hold their noses and vote for a candidate they don’t prefer. That could change as disgust with Romney grows, but watching the party’s nominee come under withering fire from the White House will work wonders, I bet, in grudgingly reconciling them to voting for Mitt. The only defense Romney’s gotten from the right through the entire primary thus far was when Gingrich started attacking him from the left on Bain. Imagine six months of that ramped up a thousandfold as part of the Democrats’ class-warfare strategy. It’ll be hard to look the other way.
On the other hand, the more this race transforms from “Gingrich vs. Romney” into “tea partiers vs. establishment,” the more bitter it’ll get and the deeper the schism inside the party will be in the fall. The irony of these primaries turning so hot is that Newt vs. Mitt is a match-up that leaves so many conservatives cold. On Twitter tonight, in fact, the boss emeritus is gently chiding Palin to remember that it’s not just Romney-bot “cannibals” who have been criticizing Gingrich. And when asked for comment about the race by the AP, Tea Party Patriots chief Mark Meckler said this:
It’s unclear whether the anti-Gingrich push is driving a new wedge between establishment Republicans and anti-establishment insurgents such as the tea partyers.
“We don’t like the Republican establishment anyway,” said Mark Meckler, a Californian and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. He said tea partyers are heavily focused on state and local races, and are wary of getting drawn into the presidential quarrels.
After all, Meckler said, “it’s not as though Newt Gingrich hasn’t been part of the Republican establishment.”
Meckler seems to see the race as essentially a Hobson’s choice. Palin sort of does too when she says Newt is an “imperfect vessel” for tea-party support, but by casting Gingrich as the newest victim of lying gutless insiders, she’s necessarily framing his candidacy as a vehicle for true conservatives to slay the RINO establishment dragon. In fact, she’s right on the cusp of claiming that Romney’s nomination will be illegitimate if he wraps this up on Tuesday aided by the ferocious media criticism of Gingrich (“it will not have come to a satisfactory conclusion”). If that’s the prevailing view among tea partiers, that Mitt cheated by being the beneficiary of Beltway collusion, that lingering bitterness will be a problem for him in the fall. Which would be ironic, since some sizable chunk of the people who are attacking Newt are doing it only because they’re terrified that he can’t beat Obama.