Tonight’s results — a blowout win for Newt Gingrich — upend all the equations governing the GOP presidential primary. So which variables can we still be relatively sure of?
Let me take a stab at one. Newt Gingrich isn’t going to be the GOP nominee. I’m not saying Romney will be, though I think it’s still very likely. You can never say never in politics. But I think the anchor point for understanding where we are right now is that the institutional GOP, the establishment Republican party, won’t let Newt get the nomination.
Look at these numbers: nationwide Newt Gingrich’s favorability number is 26.5%, unfavorable 58.6%. (see the chart here.)
It would be quite difficult for Newt Gingrich to beat President Obama. The bigger story is that he would likely devastate the congressional Republican party. He’d probably weigh down the GOP up and down the ticket. And that puts the whole thing in much sharper relief for Republican officeholders, committee chairs and money folks.
If I’m right about that, that means they have to and will do virtually everything possible now to crush Gingrich and make Romney the nominee.
My best guess is that Gingrich will come on strong or even win Florida. And it’ll be bad for Mitt for a while. But eventually Mitt and really the GOP establishment will just grind him down. Do I know that? Not at all. Unless Mitt can totally shut Gingrich down in Florida, it’s really all bets are off territory. But again, the one thing I think you can rely on is that Gingrich isn’t the nominee — simply because I think the costs to the GOP are simply too grave to let it happen.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.