Yes—this is basically over now. Mitt Romney’s decisive win in Florida proved two things. First, that there aren’t quite enough insurgent/Tea Party–type voters just yet in the GOP primary electorate to disrupt the “next in line” thesis, which has held for Republicans since 1968. Second, that $16 million worth of (mostly) attack ads does indeed make a difference.
On the first point, the central dramatic question of this whole primary season has been and is whether the insurgent voters had come to outnumber the establishment voters. It seemed for a time, as Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain and so on led the polls temporarily, that the insurgents’ year had finally arrived. But it apparently has not. This is still a dynamic to watch in future elections, though. If Barack Obama is reelected, then in 2016 we’ll have a situation in which the GOP, after four more years of minority-status recriminations, will be fighting its civil war at the primary ballot box. You might have a Jon Huntsman or a Chris Christie representing the establishment wing, and, oh, a certain former half-term governor (she’s only 47) as the insurgent standard-bearer. I’m already looking forward to that one! But for now, next-in-line holds.
Newt Gingrich vowed to fight on in his concession speech in Florida.
On the second point, we cannot forget that money matters. My colleague John Avlon made the case about the remorseless effectiveness of Romney’s attack campaign persuasively Tuesday morning. And the point is not merely about Florida, which Avlon was describing. It is that going forward, wherever and whenever Newt Gingrich seems to be emerging as any kind of threat to Romney, establishment, anti-Gingrich money can be hustled up in a hurry to crush him like a grape.
Pundits say this every election, but I haven’t, and this time it’s really true: this is the nastiest race yet. Clinton and Obama didn’t touch this in terms of nastiness.
If Newt says Newt will keep going, then Newt will keep going. But at some point, probably sooner rather than later, he’s going to look silly. Remember, in 2008 Hillary Clinton had the credibility to hang on until June because she won some important states. California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Mexico. Also Michigan and Florida (well, sort of—remember, they jumped the line and didn’t really count). Indeed, Clinton partisans in 2008 got a lot of mileage out of that very argument: she beat him in the key states Democrats need to win, so how can we Democrats send out into battle the guy who lost most of the important Democratic states? Can Gingrich win some significant and unexpected states and mount anything resembling that argument? I have trouble seeing it. Winning Georgia and some other Southern states won’t impress.
However: the Gingrich wing of the party and movement—and yes, there now is such a thing!—will keep banging at Romney. I realize pundits say this every election, but I haven’t, and this time it’s really true: this is the nastiest race yet. Clinton and Obama didn’t touch this in terms of nastiness. At 1600 Pennsylvania, someone is smiling.