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Is Newt Peaking Too Soon?

Is Newt Peaking Too Soon?

By Tom Bevan - November 18, 2011


There are only 46 days until the Iowa caucuses. That may not seem like a very long time, but in the current race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination it may be too long -- much too long.

Almost by a process of elimination, Newt Gingrich is the latest GOP hopeful to experience a sudden surge in his polling numbers. The former speaker of the House is now leading or tied for the lead in the last three national surveys, and is rising fast in Iowa, which is probably a must-win proposition for him. But in today’s breakneck media environment, one has to wonder whether the Gingrich bubble will stay inflated long enough to help him score a win in the Hawkeye State on Jan. 3.

But if one considers the shelf life of recent Republican front-runners, there’s good reason to think it won’t.

Rick Perry was already in second place in the polls when he entered the race on Aug. 13. Eleven days later he was the front-runner. By Day 30, the Texas governor had more than doubled his support, peaking at 31.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics Average on Sept. 13 -- 12 points ahead of his nearest competitor, the steady, if unspectacular, Mitt Romney.

After that, it was all downhill. Almost immediately, Perry’s unimpressive debate performances began to erode his support. On Day 40, he parried Romney’s criticism of him for a Texas law that allows the children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state college tuition by saying during an Orlando debate that those who disagreed with him “don’t have a heart.” By Oct. 13, exactly two months after he entered the race, the Perry balloon had sagged back to Earth. A month before his famous 53-second brainlock about which federal agencies he wanted to shutter, Perry had fallen to a distant third place among the GOP White House wannabes, registering just 13.8 percent support in national polling.

Herman Cain’s rise was nearly as meteoric. It began the same weekend Perry imploded on the debate stage in Orlando. Two days later, Cain temporarily turned the race upside down by scoring a dominant win in the P5 straw poll in Florida. Over the course of the next three weeks, the former Godfather’s Pizza magnate shot from fifth place (with just over 5 percent support) to a dead heat for first place with Romney (at just over 23 percent).

Two days after Politico broke the sexual harassment story about Cain on Oct. 31, Cain reached his high-water mark in the polls as conservatives rallied behind him. But as more details -- and more women -- came forward, and as the Cain campaign bungled its response to the allegations, his support began to erode. Recent flubs on foreign policy only hastened his decline. The total time it took for Cain to rise to front-runner before falling back into second place: 48 days.

Which brings us back to Newt Gingrich. The former Georgia congressman has been the prime beneficiary of Cain’s decline over the past 10 days. But the bombshell story from Bloomberg News on Wednesday that Gingrich made more than $1.6 million “consulting” for Freddie Mac in the years 1999-2002 threatens to turn Gingrich’s rocket ride in the polls into something more akin to the Challenger disaster. A Washington Post story this morning that a think tank he founded earned tens of millions of dollars from health care companies -- and advocated for an individual insurance mandate -- adds to the likelihood.

And while his intelligence and debating skills have been obvious assets in moving him into the first tier of candidates, Gingrich’s free-wheeling style and notorious lack of discipline may not be conducive to either fending off the Bloomberg story or knocking Romney off his pedestal.

As Carl Cannon and I recount in our new e-book, “Election 2012: The Battle Begins,” Gingrich already suffered through one of the most disastrous rollouts of a presidential campaign in U.S. history. The entire affair, from attacking Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan as “right-wing social engineering” to the revelations about his $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany & Co. (not to mention the decision to leave the campaign trail for a lavish two-week cruise through the Greek islands, which led to the mass resignation of nearly his entire staff), took place over the course of 29 days.

So 46 days is a very long time in politics. Perhaps especially for Newt Gingrich. 

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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