Every debate, it seems everyone agrees about a few things – Romney is the most polished debater. Gingrich is the smartest one in the room. Perry has a better record as a governor than he does skills as a debater.
Everyone knows Gingrich’s personal history has some baggage. He was dismissed early as “unelectable” because of that and his corresponding unfavorable rating. But, in 2011, we have no perfect candidate. And personal baggage of a decades old divorce matter where no laws were broken should not preclude Gingrich from being strongly considered if he is in fact the smartest or most qualified candidate.
In two days, he squares off against Cain in a long debate. Let’s assume he wins the debate, just as Cain’s alleged scandals get more attention. Cain’s numbers would then go down and Cain supporters, many of whom will watch the debate, are most likely to flow to Gingrich. Undecideds watching the debate are also most likely to flow to the winner who gets much much more air time than any of the 6 candidates who will not even be there.
Then what happens? Rasmussen Reports had Gingrich in 3rd today at 14%. If he beats Cain and Cain returns to his pre-surge numbers, Gingrich could easily hit 20% or more possibly. If he gets close to or passes 20%, he becomes the new “anti-Romney.” If that happens, Romney is finished.
Why would Romney be finished? Basically because this whole primary season, Romney has been coasting as the “electable and competent” candidate. Romney has his own glass ceiling in the polls because he has failed to resolve questions as to his conservative bona fides and sincerity. The field has seen one candidate after another be the “anti-Romney” for this reason (Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain). Unlike these others though, Gingrich has actual potential to eat into Romney’s share of the vote because like Romney, Gingrich has the same assets they value in Romney. Gingrich is competent, experienced, free from any perception of radicalism among the moderate wing of the party.
The 2012 election should be a competence election. Having our smartest guy who can boast credibly of a capacity to balance the budget could unite the tea party behind him as well. Gingrich is a social conservative and a fiscal conservative with a proven track record on both, and his foreign policy bona fides might be the best in the field.
If I had to vote today, I would lean to Gingrich.