Left to his own devices
“Once again, what a difference a week makes” was the way I started a Facebook status after seeing the latest Real Clear Politics summary graph of the Florida polls. That was before the release of the NBC/Marist, PPP, and Rasmussen polls were entered but even after those polls factored into the mix, the result was still the same – Romney leads Gingrich by double digits going into primary week in Florida. What’s more striking is that if you look at the graph you’ll see the South Carolina spike by Gingrich but then comes the plunging poll numbers of the former speaker. So what happened in that week that has flipped the numbers?
For one, the Romney attack blitz was unleashed in a state where big money is needed to mount a reasonable campaign. According to a Washington Post report on the ads, Romney and his allies had a 3-1 money advantage against Gingrich and it showed on the airwaves, with countless attacks on everything from the fees he earned as an “advisor” to Fannie and Freddie to NBC reports of his ethics violations, the later being removed after objections from NBC and Tom Brokaw. Gingrich has gone on the defensive about the ads and made some serious allegations about Romney in the process. From the Post article “’You cannot debate somebody who is dishonest. You just can’t,’ he said, referring to Romney.”
But is Gingrich providing any good responses to the ads other than defensive posturing? Not really. In fact, his behavior after South Carolina seems to be another reason he is falling in the polls. As George Will stated this morning on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Gingrich’s worst enemy is time because he will continue to dig deeper with his sharp tongue and outlandish statements.
One statement raised eyebrows all around as Gingrich campaigned with Floridians on the space coast. During a campaign stop Gingrich proposed having a base on the moon by 2020, an idea that Charles Krauthammer called his “Dukakis in a tank” moment. It was evidently being played to one focused audience, those who’s jobs have depended on a robust and expansive space program. But at a time when the nation is struggling and the federal government is tightening its belt, that kind of program would probably not be received very well across the nation and it wasn’t.
It was a typical Gingrich “shoot from the hip” moment that has gotten him in trouble time and time again. Times like indirectly referring to Spanish as the “language of living in the ghetto,” a statement he later retracted in Spanish. What made Gingrich’s response to that statement, made in a speech in 2007, even more insulting was how he tried to dance around the statement in Florida where 22% of the population is Hispanic. “I wasn’t talking about any single language,” Gingrich has said in countless interviews. That defense is about as plausible as Clinton’s infamous “meaning of the word is is” response during the height of the Lewinsky investigation.
Most everyone who has any memory of Gingrich during his career has recognized this pandering, policy shifting, or evasion of facts. The problem is that this is not sitting well with an electorate that is looking for someone to take on Obama in November. They, and several Republican leaders and conservative pundits, see his erratic behavior as a negative during the campaign and during a potential presidency.
So if the Florida primary had been held on Sunday, Gingrich probably would have won it. But more than a week will go by before the final results are in, a week that allows Gingrich to be his worst enemy.