What’s Up With the GOP?

Only 10 days ago Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary by a sizable 12.6 points, and seemed to be riding a wave of momentum that would have given him the GOP nomination — or at least would have made the race with Mitt Romney close down the stretch. Even more incredible though is that this momentum shifted almost literally overnight from Romney to Gingrich. On top of that, this overnight swing was not affected at all by ABC News breaking the story that Gingrich had asked his second wife for an open marriage. Fast forward to … wait, only 10 days later, and now poll analyst Nate Silver at The New York Times blog Five Thirty Eight is predicting Romney will win by four or five points in the Florida primary.

How does this happen? At the debate the Thursday before the South Carolina primary, Gingrich was questioned about the rumors surrounding his marriage and he blasted the moderator, calling it “despicable” to start a presidential debate in that way. Comedic pundit Jon Stewart aptly pointed out the hypocrisy in Gingrich’s statement saying that it was ridiculous for Newt Gingrich, a man who left his first wife when she had cancer, then cheated on this second wife when she was thought to have MS, to say how “despicable” to question his marriage. Excuse me Mr. Gingrich, but I think the voters have not only a right, but even an obligation to question a presidential candidate who is apparently championing family values in front of the camera, but behind closed doors is blatantly disregarding these family values. However, moderator John King backed down from Gingrich and didn’t question him anymore.

Gingrich continued the hypocrisy spree when he said on multiple news shows following the debate, that since he was questioned by the mainstream media he was further cemented as a Washington outsider. Speaker of the House of Representatives seems like a pretty insider position to me. But none of the news pundits pointed out the ridiculousness of this statement. Instead they said that Newt Gingrich was the clear front-runner, and that Mitt Romney was just too boring of a candidate and unelectable.

Mitt Romney is not so unelectable that Republican voters as well as pundits have to jump on any candidate who they think looks better, and in the process ignore glaring holes in any candidate not named Romney. But this is exactly what was happening when Gingrich surged before and after the South Carolina primary.

What is interesting though is that the vast majority of polls predict that in a Romney vs. Obama race, Obama is favored by a slim average of 2.3 points, but replace Romney with Gingrich and that slim margin balloons to an average 11.3 point victory for Obama. So if the GOP really wants to beat Obama then they would be wise to select Romney as their man and at least give themselves a fighting chance.

And with Gingrich falling rather flat in last Thursdays debate for the Florida primary, polls indicate that he will not be able to maintain his momentum, allowing Romney to regain his position at the top.

In the end I think Gingrich lost his lead by abandoning his offensive game plan, instead he became too confident with his lead and decided to just sit back and use a defensive strategy. A look at the ads being run in Florida right now support this; with Romney-supported super PACs pointing out the shady financial dealings in Gingrich’s past, and on the opposite side the only primary criticism of Romney is that he just isn’t conservative enough.

This whole Gingrich and Romney back and forth is all just to say that if the GOP continues to just squabble internally (and in so doing violate Reagan’s “11th Commandment that Gingrich claims to adhere to), then they will surely undermine their voting base and severely jeopardize their chances of success come November.

Joel Marshall is a third-year literary journalism major. He can be reached at jbmarsha@uci.edu.