Why Newt Gingrich is likely to be the GOP nominee?

The emergence of Newt Gingrich as frontrunner for the Republican nomination is without doubt very odd. Many pundits thought that Gingrich’s campaign dead in the water after making some incredibly dumb comments about Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan. We were all wrong, apparently.

It’s not like the conservative base has embraced Gingrich. After all, Herman Cain excited the base at the beginning of the race. But that eventually moved to Michele Bachmann, who had her brief time in the limelight and won the Ames Straw Poll in mid-August. But after Rick Perry jumped in the race, Bachmann became a distant memory. After Perry proved himself to be an incapable debator and gaffe-prone, where did the support go? Not Gingrich, but back to the inexperienced and unproven Cain.

But now with Cain tapering off again, it’s Gingrich — not Rick Santorum or Ron Paul — who is reaping the benefits. Why? As I noted recently, it’s because GOP voters remember him and respect him as a some sort of intellectual conservative (laughable, I know, given all the statist policies he’s supported).

The reason conservatives aren’t flocking to Paul are sort of obvious, though I don’t expect his average supporter to grasp them. Paul isn’t a neo-conservative, so he doesn’t appeal to warmongers defense-minded GOP voters. While he is personally opposed to gay marriage, he is also a defender of the Tenth Amendment and opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment. And let’s face it, he doesn’t come off as that great of a debator. Sure, his ideas are sound on paper and in practice, I believe. But when it comes articulating them, he just isn’t that great.

As far as Santorum, his sole purpose in the race has been to advance social conservatism, which is not among the principle concerns of most voters right now. Santorum isn’t presidential, often coming across as the “angry white man” during debates. There is also the matter of the shellacking he received from now-Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) during the 2006 election. Yeah, it was a bad year for Republicans in general, but a 18-pount beat down is, well, embarrasing.

But Santorum is no less a fiscal conservative than Newt Gingrich. Both have supported big government programs that should draw criticism, not support, from conservative and tea party-minded Republican voters. I stand by what I wrote yesterday, that Santorum could still rise should Cain drop out in the next few days and there is suddenly a renewed focus on family values. Stranger things have happened, but time isn’t on Santorum’s side.

The Iowa caucus is just weeks away, on January 3rd, and four other states are set to hold their primaries that same month. Not only has Gingrich seen his national numbers rise, his numbers in these states have soared.

Let’s look briefly at the numbers.

Iowa (1/3/12): Gingrich has double-digit leads among likely primary voters in the last two polls, though he leads by an average of 8.2%. Romney is fighting for second place with Cain and Paul.

South Carolina (1/21/12): Much like Iowa, Gingrich has double-digit leads in South Carolina — as wide as 23 points.

Florida (1/31/12): The last two polls in Florida, released this week, show Gingrich running away with the state. Not only that, Romney’s support is fading.

Gingrich’s best friend right now is time. If he can sustain for December (a time when many voters tune out politics), keep his past personal issues from becoming a distraction, and can win Iowa, that momentum should carry him forward to win many or most of the early primary states. He would be in excellent position come Super Tuesday (3/6/12), enough to win the Republican nomination.

None of this should be taken as me being happy about this. I think nominating Gingrich is a short-sighted mistake from a political standpoint, though I’m not fond of Romney (I’m voting for Gary Johnson). I don’t care what the latest Rasmussen poll says, nearly every other poll shows Obama beating Gingrich.

Romney can’t count on another conservative getting in the race at this late hour. Filing deadlines in these early states have come and gone. But barring some major gaffe by Gingrich, I just don’t see Romney pulling this off.

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