The GOP campaign season is about to begin a quiet period in February. This time offers the campaigns and the candidates time to resupply, reassess plans, reallocate staff to the March primary states and work on their messages and images. It is rare in a campaign when you can actually pause and reflect. Each campaign has different challenges that need to be addressed.
Newt Gingrich needs money and organization. He needs a credible explanation of where he can win and, more important, what his message will be. He has ended this period angry, bitter and unfocused. That is not a winning presentation. Among GOP activists, many don’t think he can do anything else, or at least he can’t sustain anything else for very long. But his negatives, always high, are now especially high. An ABC/Washington Post poll says that his unfavorability rating is now 51 percent, and his favorability rating is at only 29 percent. Gingrich’s attacks chip away at Romney, but they make him even less appealing. One big question that this Insider has about Gingrich is whether he is self-aware — does he realize he has any of these problems? A fellow Republican who served with Newt during the heady days of 1994 used to say about Gingrich, “often in error, never in doubt.”
Mitt Romney is not challenged by a deficient organization, and I assume his money machine is stronger than it was two months ago. He looks like a winner. He needs to secure key endorsements of elected officials to add to the air of inevitability that is helping propel his campaign. Romney’s biggest challenge is less tangible. People think he is boring at a time when they are looking for some passion. It is hard to create synthetic passion. But he must do something about his intensity deficit. He still leaves the GOP rank-and-file yearning for more. He needs a better-conceived and better-delivered stump speech. He needs a sharper economic message. He is our front-runner, but his position is fragile, and he will lose some primaries in the South in March. If he underperforms in February’s Colorado or Missouri voting, it will add to the worry that he is an underperformer.
Rick Santorum needs everything — money,organization and a credible rationale for his candidacy. Despite himself, he has developed some goodwill in the party but no reasonable path to becoming our nominee. So why is he in the race? He adds very little. But he still controls some of his own post-campaign reputation. He needs to decide what he wants that to be.
Ron Paul is doing fine, I guess. The whole notion of winning or losing doesn’t really apply to his campaign. So more of the same is okay with him and his followers.
This is an awkward time for the GOP campaign, but perhaps the worst is over. I assume March 6 will produce our nominee for certain. President Obama will probably never have a better contrast with the GOP than he does right now. In a few weeks, we will have a de facto nominee, and the Republican delegation in Congress will have a plan for the rest of the year that won’t include self-inflicted wounds and offering a flattering image of Obama.