We are a month away from the actual horserace, but it has been going on a while. I have said repeatedly that the race is Mitt Romney's to lose. It looks like he just might lose it.The race is Romney's to lose because the race has settled against his favor. The race has settled in "Not Romney's" favor. The problem, though, is "Not Romney" is not on the ballot. Because the 75% of Republican voters who do not want Mitt Romney cannot settle on an alternative, Mitt holding steady at second place benefits him. The 75% will divide up around him while his 25% holds steady.But few of us, including me, could see Newt's resurgence. Brought on in an unusually debate heavy campaign season, the money has started pouring in and Newt has risen to replace Romney. Not only that, but Newt's rise has seen Romney's numbers start to fall. There is panic in the Romney camp. Herman Cain's implosion has prompted more consolidation away from Romney toward Gingrich.The question now is can Gingrich overcome his Sisyphean legacy? Gingrich historically has reached the top of the political pile only to spectacularly roll back down it. Conservatives in the 90's came to loath him as an obstruction to conservative dominance. During the George W. Bush years, Gingrich charted a third way that is now starting to come back on him.If Gingrich can weather the storm for the next three weeks, it becomes Newt Gingrich's race to lose. History is against him. The voters, so far, are for him. Waiting off stage for his second close up should the voters break out the hook for Gingrich is a governor from Texas — the man who inherited Gingrich's original campaign team.We'll get into it all in today's Horserace.
Because it has been a few weeks due to travel and holidays, let me re-state up front that while we all have our biases in the race for and against particular candidates (my bias is largely in the "not Romney" camp as opposed to for a particular candidate), this is my effort to try to be as objective as possible. It's not an endorsement of a candidate or a particular view, but how I see things shaping up whether I like it or not. That's why I always take the candidates in alphabetical order.Feel free to disagree or hope I'm wrong. I frequently hope I'm wrong. But this is where I see it headed.
Michele Bachmann had a great Heritage/AEI debate performance, but it hasn't really gained her anything. She has no new message and her old message really isn't getting out. Her campaign is out of money and she is getting very little attention.When candidates fall in the polls, they stop getting the media attention of the front runners. Sometimes the candidates can retool, tinker, and get back out there for a second take. That time has come and passed for MIchele Bachmann. Her campaign is all in for Iowa, but despite portraying herself as the hometown girl, she is not getting traction on the ground.
Herman Cain's campaign is over. The moment a campaign let's slip it is reconsidering whether or not it should be in the race is the moment people start writing off the candidate. Let's be real honest here. Herman's problems are largely staff related (pun alert). His staff has been rather inept these past few weeks dealing with the scandals or non-scandals. They've been inept dealing with his foreign policy missteps. They've been inept in responding to criticisms of his national sales tax portion of 9-9-9.Ultimately though, the buck stops with the candidate. And if the staff is perpetually incompetent, at some point blame must ultimately lie with the candidate. A Herman Cain supporter called my radio show the other night angry. I'm used to Cain supporters being angry with me lately. They think I'm not grateful enough to Herman and that I should be the ultimate Cain cheerleader.This guy was not angry at me. He was angry at Herman. He said he didn't believe the harassment charges. He wasn't sure about the affair, but the woman sounded legit. He didn't care though. There could be something in Herman's life that we don't know that affected him or it could be that it didn't happen. It did not matter. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.What bothered him and made him so angry was that he has put his reputation at stake, telling his friends that this businessman with no political experience could fix the country. His friends had dismissed him and he kept on. And people started thinking maybe Herman could fix the country.But finally it became apparent that Herman can't even fix his campaign. And if he can't fix his campaign, regardless of the veracity of the actual allegations, there is no way he could fix the country. This guy felt betrayed that the man he thought was so competent without political experience could not even run a campaign without the campaign tripping over itself.That's why Herman Cain's campaign is over. So should he get out? No. There's always another chance. He's got the money. But most importantly, if Herman Cain drops out now, voters will see it as an admission against interest that he had an affair. If he holds his head up through Iowa, it will all be forgotten. But the damage is done.
Herman Cain's implosion has benefitted Newt Gingrich more than any other person. What is so fascinating is that you can see in the polls the horde of people who fled Perry to Cain have now fled Cain to Gingrich. The question for Gingrich is if he can hang on through December. The advantage is few people pay attention in December. But those who do pay attention become the information sources for those who do not.Gingrich's problem is that there are a lot of very influential conservatives who feel very betrayed by Gingrich's positions over the years. They are now out to settle scores with him. Voters may like him now, but will they in three weeks? Already, Ron Paul has out one of the most effective attack pieces I've seen on the trail this year. Stuff like that is going to keep trickling out.If Gingrich can hang on, I think the race locks quickly for him among the 75% who do not want Mitt Romney. But I am convinced if Gingrich collapses as he is historically prone to do because of his ego that both Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry will get another look. One other point about Gingrich — does he have the state level organizational support to make it through the other states? To a large degree that would come if he wins Iowa. But as we saw with Perry and with Cain, when a candidate suddenly and largely unexpectedly starts surging with not a lot of money in the back, the staff can start tripping over itself leading to chaos.Here's the Ron Paul ad:
Jon Huntsman is rising in New Hampshire. If Huntsman comes back in New Hampshire, he is in the game. Here's the funny thing about Jon Huntsman. His record as a Governor is more conservative than Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney combined. He is more pro-life than either of them. He is more economically wedded to the free market than either of them. He has better foreign policy experience than either of them. Huntsman should be a conservative hero in this race.But he is not because of his own campaign's doing. The campaign made a conscious choice to give the middle finger to conservatives early on. Huntsman decided to cast himself as the moderate in the race — go to the left of Romney. I think his campaign thought Romney would run right. Instead they both tried to run up the center and Huntsman got to the left. He also, maybe he can't help himself, comes off as too condescending to a lot of primary voters. His attitude rubs people wrong in South Carolina and Iowa.What's so tragic about the Huntsman race is that he has the boldest free market economic recovery plan. He has the most pro-life record of anyone in the race other than Rick Perry. He has the best jobs creation record of anyone in the race with the possible exception of Rick Perry. And he has run away from all of that to be the guy who doesn't offend the women of The View.If Jon Huntsman made that decision, he might want to commit seppuku. If his campaign team did it, he should fire them. I have come to the conclusion that Jon Huntsman is more conservative than Mitt Romney and would be a more conservative President than Mitt Romney. I have also come to conclude that if the Huntsman campaign has anything to do with it, you will never ever know how conservative his record and economic vision actually are and he will lose as a result.
Ron Paul continues to impress me with his video work, his commercials, and his appeal to a broad base of people on economic issues. Ron Paul actually has captured the zeitgeist on economic issues right now. Unfortunately he has a lot of baggage and it mostly comes from foreign policy views and prior statements.I think Newt Gingrich is right. Ron Paul's voters are Ron Paul voters. They are not Republican voters. They will not go to someone else, but few others will go to Ron Paul. He is incapable of building a winning coalition for the primary. His views on our relationship with Israel are repugnant to many. His views on the war on terror scare the crap out of people. And ultimately, while he has captured the zeitgeist on economic issues, I don't think it would last through the general election.Ron Paul will not be the nominee. But he just might take out Newt Gingrich.
The problem for Rick Perry is that his campaign is now based on luck. If Newt Gingrich implodes, Rick Perry may get another look.That's not a winning strategy. That's wishing on a star. But it still may happen.Ultimately — and I am friends with a number of these guys but I won't mince any words here — I believe Rick Perry will get a second look by primary voters and I believe the Perry campaign will not be ready for that second look.Here's the problem for Team Perry — they are not hungry. If Rick Perry loses tomorrow, all of his top people go back to the Governor's Mansion in Texas and govern Texas. They all view that as equally awesome to the White House, so they are not hungry for a win. They have nothing to lose so they don't mind losing. And I think that goes for the candidate too.Reporters routinely tell me that Perry has perhaps the nicest of campaign staffs, but they also tell me that the Perry campaign is full of hubris and really does convey the attitude that it doesn't matter because they'll still have jobs the day after Perry drops out.It is a psychological problem for Team Perry and I don't know that they get it. They are about to get a second look from a lot of voters in Iowa and elsewhere who are about to be scared to death over Newt Gingrich's social conservative record or lack thereof. And if the Perry campaign is yet again found wanting, and I sadly think it will be, we may just see the rise of Jon Huntsman.Again though, right now, the second look depends on luck and it should not. The Perry camp is resting on a belief Newt will implode. They should be making their own luck as best they can. There are rumors of a staff shake up and a concentration in Iowa. They better do something. They've got a good staff in Iowa and a good ground game. They have the money, but they are running out of time.Governor Perry, get ready for your second close up. You are just about to lose so make it count. One thing that could help you is if evangelicals in Iowa decide to unite behind you. That's a real possibility right now.
This remains Mitt Romney's race because while three-quarters of the GOP does not want Mitt Romney, the three-quarters of the GOP cannot make up its mind who it does want. But weaknesses are starting to show up with Team Romney. Romney's rather petulant behavior with Bret Baier is just part of it. Whining about an interview on Fox News suggests a rather solid weakness for Romney and also suggests he cannot hold up to tough questions about his record.Romney's got to take out Newt Gingrich. He's so far using the same tactic he tried with Rick Perry — the career politician track. I don't think that works for Romney. It just serves to remind everyone how utterly unsuccessful he is as a politician.Still, the stars are still mostly aligned for a Romney nomination because no one else can get their act together. If Gingrich holds on through the digital rectal exam he's about to get, Mitt Romney stays a bridesmaid. If Gingrich collapses and neither Perry nor Huntsman are ready, Mitt Romney does what his father could not — secures the Republican nomination.
I'm starting to feel sorry for Rick Santorum. Evangelicals in Iowa have been privately meeting to see if they could unite behind a candidate. Santorum could arguably be that guy given his record. But Santorum can't get people convinced he can win and no one wants to back a guy who looks like a loser. I see no way Santorum becomes the nominee, even if he were to surprise everyone and win Iowa. He has no money and no organization. I have never understood the rationale for a Santorum run and I'm starting to think he doesn't understand it either.