Mitt’s Darkening Horizon

November 30, 2011 7:12 a.m.

We’ve frequently noted the boom-and-bust cycle of would-be Romney slayers in the GOP primary race. And Newt is currently in his ‘Angry-Birds-like’ arc across the polling chart. But like some others, I now have my doubts whether Newt’s really going to tank like the others. Look at the data from the various primary states in this article.

Gingrich is now significantly ahead of Romney in Iowa and South Carolina. And even in New Hampshire, which has always been the lynchpin and backstop of Romney’s primary strategy, Romney appears to be moving into a genuine race with Newt.

The current TPM Poll Average of New Hampshire has Mitt almost 18 points ahead of Newt (36.5% to 18.8%). But the latest poll from Rasmussen released yesterday has it at a 10 point margin (compared to a 24 point margin the last time Rasmussen polled the race a month ago). Again, Mitt’s still got a big lead. But it’s New Hampshire where he’s supposed to have no competition at all.

Then there’s Florida. The TPM Poll Average still has Cain slightly ahead of Romney. But until yesterday there hadn’t been a poll there since early November. In the latest poll Newt has a huge 24 point lead over Mitt.

We probably need to wait until mid-December to know whether Newt’s surge is real or just another boom and bust. But it seems different; it feels different. That’s not much to go on. But we do have some evidence that it is different.

The call for a “humane” immigration policy, which rejects the (wildly unrealistic) idea of forcibly deporting 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country, has not played out the way it did for Perry. And Gingrich has a history of wanting the GOP to avoid the excesses of Hispanic-bashing to keep the party viable in a changing electorate. So it’s not like he doesn’t have a history of statements that can be mined. But again, it doesn’t seem to be hurting yet.

His history as a buckraking lobbyist insider is also getting a close look now. But frankly, that’s not the kind of thing — in itself — that is likely to tank him in a Republican primary race. Partly, that’s because he has the personal posture of snarling rejection of Washington and big government which appears to cut against that insider image (as unrealistic as that might be.)

Let’s be clear. To me it seems clear that Newt is wildly unsuited to be president — by a standard under which Romney unquestionably does qualify. He’s the closest you get over the last half century to the guy who invented the brutally polarized politics of today (though it’s much deeper than any one person). He’s always been a highly mercurial and not particularly stable personality. That doesn’t even get into the ethical problems and outlandish positions.

But so far, Newt just seems more durable than the others. And suddenly Mitt looks a lot less inevitable. That in turn has its own effects. As the dominant frontrunner or 2nd place behind the clown of the week, Romney had the luxury of largely avoiding any critical interviews. Now that’s not so easy. He sat down yesterday for an interview with Bret Baier on Fox. And it didn’t go well. Mitt got testy and didn’t react well to a serious questioning on his many changing positions.

Frankly I cannot comprehend the GOP being as foolish as they’d need to be to make Newt their nominee. But Mitt looks a lot less like a sure thing. Expect electability to start becoming a very, very big issue.

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