Back to previous page


The limits of Newt Gingrich’s staying power

By and ,

BETTENDORF, Iowa – Is Newt Gingrich the next Republican to rise and fall as the chief alternative to Mitt Romney?

Despite the former House speaker’s sudden return to prominence in the GOP presidential field, reservations about his long record in public life — and the baggage that comes with it — will continue to call into question just what kind of staying power he has.

And even he isn’t counting his chickens.

“This is the most volatile race of my lifetime,” Gingrich said at a meet and greet Monday at an insurance company headquarters in West Des Moines. “This is a wild race, OK? Who knows what the polls are going to be two months from now? I’m not going to tell you that I’m on the way.”

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista Gingrich, speak after the debate at the Benjamin Johnson Arena, Saturday in Spartanburg, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Given what has happened to the last few would-be Romney usurpers, it would be no surprise to see Gingrich catch Romney and then quickly fade. We’ve already seen this story play out with Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and, most recently, businessman Herman Cain.

Gingrich has already gotten the rising part down. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Monday showed him within the margin of error against Romney nationally, while Cain slipped to 10 points back.

But looked at another way, Gingrich’s rise isn’t really a rise at all. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Gingrich’s favorable rating among Republican voters is essentially where it was when the race started.

The poll shows 57 percent rate Gingrich favorably, while 25 percent rate him unfavorably. In March, those numbers were 55 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

That suggests that Republicans aren’t necessarily more interested in Gingrich, but merely that he suddenly seems like a more attractive candidate, given the dynamics of the race.

And that doesn’t speak well for his staying power.

“Gingrich’s newfound position in the race is temporary and untenable as his campaign is incapable of prolonging or solidifying the wave of new support,” said GOP consultant Tyler Harber. “There is no doubt that Gingrich will again crash and burn, hopefully realizing that he is better suited as the party’s brain trust rather than its standard-barer.”

Even Gingrich himself is suggesting that his rise in the polls is built more on cardboard than cinder blocks. And he’s right. Every frontrunner in this race has been a fragile one — even, one might argue, Romney.

Gingrich may have been speaking more to the state of the race than the state of his reputation, but the latter plays a big role too. Every candidate to rise and fall has fallen due largely to his or her own faults. And Gingrich has his skeletons.

Politico has already called attention to an e-mail circulating in GOP circles that contains some of Gingrich’s less conservative bona fides — including his support of action on global warming and words sympathetic to the DREAM Act and cap and trade. And Gingrich’s work on behalf of Freddie Mac has already been raised at a debate.

Gingrich’s unfavorable rating with Republicans isn’t as high as Perry’s and Cain’s, but that’s with relatively little scrutiny being paid to his campaign and his past.

Gingrich has done himself a service with his recent debate performances, and he appears to be positioning himself as a chief critic of the congressional debt-reduction “supercommittee” – a good spot to be in.

But Gingrich still has his detractors in the Republican Party, and even he admits it.

“I did burn out my party,” Gingrich said of his speakership in the mid-1990s. “There’s no question that, by the spring of 1998, they didn’t want to fight anymore.”

At that time, his unfavorable rating in the party was only slightly higher than it is now – around 30 percent.

To this day, Gingrich’s detractors within the party are out there, and they will have their say in the days and weeks ahead. Gingrich will have a storm to weather.

Cain’s fall, detailed: New Post-ABC polling bears out a trend we’ve seen in other polls, that sexual harassment allegations have taken a toll on Cain’s campaign. While people initially stood by Cain, they seem to be slowly backing away.

His unfavorable rating among Republicans has risen from 17 percent in October to 36 percent this month, and it is up double-digits among basically every other group as well.

Cain’s unfavorable rating now rivals Perry’s which, given Perry’s fall from grace, should be a significant concern for Team Cain.

Four-way tie in Iowa: The Iowa caucuses are shaping up to be a marquee and wide-open contest, with four candidates now within the margin of error, according to a new Bloomberg poll.

The poll shows Cain at 20 percent, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at 19 percent, Romney at 18 percent and Gingrich at 17 percent.

Support for health car mandate rises: Just when it looked like the GOP may have a helpful avenue for re-hashing the health care debate in 2012, a new poll shows public opinion may be getting away from them.

The new CNN poll shows support for the individual insurance mandate rising to a majority, 52 percent, which is up from 44 percent in June. It is the first time in recent memory that the individual mandate has polled a majority.

It’s not clear why support for the mandate is rising or if other polling will bear this out, but this certainly gives Democrats some encouragement.

Still, this issue has often aroused more passion among opponents than supporters, and it remains a rallying point for the GOP, even if the majority tips one way or the other.

Perry says he will ‘uproot’ the three branches: Perry said Monday that he will reveal a plan today to “uproot” the three branches of the federal government.

In a speech in Bettendorf, Iowa, on Monday night, Perry didn’t provide much detail but said he would do something about activist judges with lifetime seats on the bench and reduce the bureaucracy in the federal government.

Perry is set to appear with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) this morning.

Fixbits:

California Republicans blame House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for spoiling an effort to overturn the state’s redistricting plan.

Perry says any members of Congress engaging in a form of insider trading should be “sent to jail, period.”

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who faces the old head of the new consumer financial protection board, supports the nominee to replace her, breaking with his GOP colleagues.

President Obama hits the links with an old friend who was busted earlier this year for soliciting a prostitute.

Mississippi Gov.-elect Phil Bryant (R) says the state’s “personhood” ballot amendment could resurface in 2012.

Must-reads:

Scalia and Thomas dine with health care law challengers as court takes case” — James Oliphant, Los Angeles Times

South Carolina GOP primary race remains wide open” — Steven Thomma, McClatchy

Elizabeth Warren fires up liberal base in Massachusetts” — AP

Gingrich in Iowa says GOP taking second look” — Thomas Beaumont, AP

© The Washington Post Company