If Not High-Road Newt, Then …

December 8, 2011 10:29 a.m.

From TPM Reader JL

Following up on your thoughts about Newt’s response to Mitt’s attacks …

Newt’s high road pose may be difficult to maintain because, as you observe, it goes totally against his nature. But there’s another response that will be more natural and work at least as well.

He can tag Mitt as the establishment candidate and say it’s not news that the insiders don’t like him. He’s the only one who is serious about shaking things up in Washington. The vested interests are worried, and they should be! If you think the status quo needs to be tweaked, vote for Mitt. But if you think Washington needs a real change agent, vote for Newt.

Throw the words “look,” “frankly,” and “fundamentally” in there a couple times each and it’s easy to imagine these exact words coming from Newt’s mouth.

Romney’s in a very serious pickle here. There’s two weeks to go before he loses control of the conversation to the holidays. And if Newt wins Iowa, he has a very, very good chance to win New Hampshire. At that point (and perhaps even in the event of a narrow Romney win in NH) he’s a prohibitive favorite in SC and Florida. After that there’s plenty of time and money for Romney to come back … except that he’ll be damaged goods, right?

So he has to go negative in a big way. But there are several problems with that: 1) negative campaigning doesn’t go over well in Iowa, 2) Newt is a known quantity, so what can you say that people haven’t heard, and 3) if Newt plays it right, it just endears Newt to the tea party crowd.

All of that said, I’m still betting on Romney. But only because Newt will almost certainly self destruct at some point. If he does the impossible and controls himself, I’m not sure there’s anything Romney can do to deny him the nomination. And that’s got to be driving the Mittster crazy.

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