Newt Won’t Wilt

Jonathan Bernstein is skeptical of the Newt surge, noting correctly that we have already had a failed Bachmann surge, Perry surge and Cain surge.

Fair enough, but as I wrote in August when Perry was being hailed as the next big thing:

I am less sure than many observers that Rick Perry will sweep aside all the other Republican candidates and march triumphantly to a Presidential nomination. A national campaign is an inferno to which no state-level campaign compares, and many people who look composed and powerful in their own neighborhood wilt or burst into flames at the next level.

And wilt Perry did, as did Bachmann before him and Cain after him. None of them had been put under that much scrutiny and that much media glare before, and they weren’t ready for it.

Not so with Newt. He has been living under the klieg lights for decades, and in that sense can’t be lumped in with the prior surge-and-crash crowd. If he fails to get the nomination, it’s going to be due to his lack of a disciplined ground operation (especially in Iowa), not because he can’t stand the heat in the kitchen.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

18 thoughts on “Newt Won’t Wilt”

  1. Agreed on that. And it won’t be because the media keep asking him questions he doesn’t want to hear and isn’t prepared for. He’s got the best line of brazen-it-out in the business. And he knows enough about the media to know that inconsistency doesn’t matter a whit.

    He’s such a double-talker that if I were brainstorming a campaign against him I think I’d dig up some old clips of Moe Howard or some classic comic doing a double-talk routine and flooding the airwaves with that. Even better if the comic looks a little like Newt, and I think some of them do. It would work for anyone except Mitt, whose problem there would be that he’s an earnest double-talker, where Newt is a glib one. Too bad for Mitt that glib beats earnest.

  2. Keith, to counter that, Newt has a habit of self-destructing, and he’s operating at a level he’s not used to – front-runner for the nomination for the presidency. Second, he had no organization as of a month ago (indeed, his staff had resigned en masse from some key early states). This means that he’s got to start from scratch.

  3. Newt is a bullshit artist. He has a gift for saying anything true, false, important or inconsequencial with conviction and passion and at a later time contradict that statement with equal gusto. He doesn’t care about the truth or consequences of anything he says outside of the effect his statements have on his audience of the moment.

    The GOP has devolved into a bullshit party because if they told people their real agenda, to strip the middle class of all wealth and power and transfer those things to the richest corporations, nobody would vote for them.

    Newt is the front runner in the GOP race because he is the most flagrant bullshitter they have. He’s also mean and they like that too.

    One thing I find amazing is that so many Republican leaders are expressing genuine concern that Newt just could end up in the Oval Office. Rick Perry didn’t scare them but Newt does. Maybe those guys are finally waking up to the fact that they live on this planet too.

  4. I think you’re mostly right — especially about how Newt’s lack of organizing and financial support compared to Romney will doom him — but you’re overestimating Newt’s ability to last in the public eye. People who follow politics know about Newt’s baggage (infidelity, corruption), but most voters don’t have more than a vague idea that he fooled around. Ads in Iowa are giving voters a detailed look at Newt’s career.

    There may not be new scandals to learn about, but that doesn’t mean that old scandals have finished doing their damage.

  5. All the comments above–and the original post–miss an important factor. Aside from the Tea Partiers, Republicans hate Newt as much as–if not more than–Democrats. They blame him for 8 years of Clinton rather than 4. They know Contract with America was a sham–aimed squarely at them. Newt does not mind eating his own. Stephanie Miller calls him “the human muppet”–and that resonates at several levels (not just mocking his voice). National Review and just about every non-TP Republican of consequence has come out against Newt already. And more will come. The man’s ethical baggage is larger than the rest of the Republican candidates put together–he can outdo Mitt in double-talk, Cain in philandering, Bachmann in crazy and Perry in inflating his accomplishments. OK, maybe he falls short of the Man-On-Dog routine. Evangelicals in Iowa apparently have not discovered that Newt converted… TO Catholicism. Every Republican has something to hate about Newty and thus far about 40% of them have closed their eyes, hoping they are wearing the ruby slippers. But if they keep clicking their heels and nothing happens, they will turn on him as they turn on others. The problems is, the only ones who failed to surge so far are Santorum, Paul and Huntsman. Paul has serious problems in this field because he’s often too honest about his views. Huntsman is still seen as someone who worked for Obama. And Santorum… well, if that man surges, I’ll be rolling on the floor laughing–he’s the original Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle.

    It is interesting, however, how much everyone has underestimated just to what extent the Evangelicals hate Romney. Romney is visibly disingenuous, but, it seems, his Mormon faith is more of a concern for them. They can stomach Catholics–especially former Catholics, like Nixon and Buchanan–but Mormons are just too much. It’s like voting for a Reform Jew or a Muslim. They just can’t take it. The only thing lower (to them) than a Mormon is an atheist–and there are not many of those running.

    1. With National Review dedicating an entire issue to the anti-Newt cause, and with Karl Rove and the other usual suspects doing what they can to head him off at the past, I wonder if it will ever come to the point that the GOP bigwigs realize that the Tea Party is a net liability which needs to be taken over, liquidated, and sold at cost. It is the Tea Party which has fallen in love with Michelle Bachmann, then with Rick Perry, then with Herman Cain, and now with Newt. It appears to be bad for business. It has outlived its usefulness.

      My personal preference is for a Gingrich candidacy, a 48 state electoral landslide for Obama, a Democratic change of 75 seats in the House, and a hostile takeover of Fox News as it takes the blame for the entire political fiasco.

      1. Ed, this is something I’ve wondered about. If the GOP elites thought that they couldn’t win the presidency, then having a Tea Party candidate lose, and lose big could be useful. Particularly if the TP guy trashed the reputation of the TP. After a major blow-out, the elites would be in a position to take full control back, purging/co-opting TP people as needed.

        The big drawback to that is that presumably a major Obama blow-out in 2012 will hurt the GOP down-ticket. The elites would have to take a serious hit there, and then survive the recriminations.

  6. Newt won´t wilt, but he may be dumped down the shredder anyway. Intrade has him currently at 15% for the nomination.
    What do we reality-based types know about how Republican political minds work? Perhaps we should make an exception for Keith as he´s a psychiatrist.

    1. Entirely possible James, a lot of powerful people in the party hate him and, as I said, I don’t think he has the ground operation he needs in caucus states. But I bet he will continue to do well in the debates and in the media, and that may carry him through.

  7. The bloom is already wilting off the Gingrich rose. He’s toast. See latest poles in Iowa. I’m with L,G & M on this one. Will lay 3-1 that Newtron doesn’t get the GOP nomination.

    1. James, you are right on the money. Newt’s boomlet has peaked already. Who’s next? Maybe a little interest in Huntsman. More likely, it’s just Romney from here on out. People are falling in line. Julian Robertson pumped hard for him on CNBC this morning,and Holman Jenkins explained why his time is coming on yesterday’s WSJ opinion page. This has been my expected scenario from the beginning. The left wants very badly to run against someone else, because Mitt represents by far their most difficult opponent. GOP party regulars are not about to nominate someone who can’t win. If Mitt somehow implodes, they’ll draft Daniels or some equally difficult opponent. It could never be Perry, Newt, Sarah, Paul, etc. etc.

      1. This is essentially correct. I’ve been saying this same thing for months now. Isn’t it funny that Brett’s statement seems to imply that you are on the left?

        The Democrats want nothing more than a Newt nominee because Newt likes straight talk and shooting from the hip sound bites. They probably won’t have to dig through the archive of Gingrich facepalms from the 90s by the time things heat up in June.

        What do you think the odds are that Ron Paul plays spoiler and siphons off Romney voters?

  8. “The left wants very badly to run against someone else, because Mitt represents by far their most difficult opponent.”

    I’m not so sure that’s true. The problem here is that the left assumes Mitt would be a difficult foe because they kind of like him, and of course somebody they like is going to be favored by

    Whereas the right wants very badly to run somebody who actually agrees with them on a wide variety of issues. Which kind of lets out Mitt, the reason Mitt seems to have a ceiling at around 25%. Problem is, kind of lets out essentially anybody the party establishment won’t sabotoge.

  9. How annoying, my 3 year old wandered by and hit “submit” while I was in mid-composition…

    Anyway, to be brief, the problem here is that the left assumes Mitt would be a tough opponent because they think he’s appealing to voters, right? But does the left really have much sense of what appeals to the right? Not so’s I’ve noticed. And a Republican candidate has to appeal to Republicans to be a tough opponent.

    Should Mitt get the nomination, (Something he can accomplish only by a series of plurality wins, as he has a fairly low ceiling.) he could well prove to be an easy opponent, just because so many Republicans would figure, “What’s the point in winning with Mitt Romney?”, and throw up their hands in defeat.

    The problem for the Republicans at this point is that they have gotten really tired of a series of candidates who fundamentally disagree with them on a variety of issues, but the party establishment won’t tolerate any other sort of candidate getting the nomination, and spares no effort in spiking any more than vaguely conservative candidate who looks like they might beat Mitt. Gingrich is just the latest to get that treatment.

    Unlike the others, though, he was probably prepared for it, he won’t be easy to spike.

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