To be clear, I do not think that Newt Gingrich stands a hope in hell of being nominated as the Republican candidate for president. There is simply way too much stacked against him: he has proved to be an inept campaign manager, he can’t come close to matching Romney’s money, the Republican establishment loathes him, and (perhaps most important of all) South Carolina played too perfectly to Newt’s strengths in a way that is highly unlikely to be repeated as the primary battle drags on.
My prediction: Newt rides the momentum of SC for everything it’s worth, fighting until his last dollar is gone. Perhaps he wins another, perhaps he comes close; in either case, he deals irreparable damage to Romney. I have to wonder if the worst damage hasn’t already been done: three states down, and the presumptive Republican candidate has won (then lost—the recount in Iowa went to Santorum) in a squeaker, won respectably in New Hampshire, and got his ass handed to him in South Carolina. This could potentially go on for a long time, and every primary and caucus that passes without Romney locking in the nomination bleeds him more. It’s not like four years ago in the protracted battle between Obama and Hilary—there, we had two strong candidates with devoted and indeed worshipful followings, and whatever resentment might have lingered, there was never any question that the loser would get behind the winner.
That isn’t a certainty here. Quite the opposite, actually. The antipathy to Romney is powerful, powerful enough to elevate wingnuts like Bachman, Cain, and Perry, a religious bigot like Santorum, and … well, honestly, I don’t know how to classify Newt. All of the above?
Mind you, I’m not totally counting out Newt. Just mostly. “Not a hope in hell” normally means no chance whatsoever, but having followed this carnival for what feels like ten years now, I don’t want to commit myself to the reasonable prediction. If I was a betting man, I’d say the good money’s on Romney … but I’d be really, really tempted to put a dollar down on Newt’s long odds. The old chestnut, “That’s so crazy, it might just work!” needs a re-jigging here. The Republican base is so crazy, they just might nominate Newt. How’s that?
For what it’s worth, I think an Obama-Gingrich showdown is precisely what the Republicans need. Would I be utterly gleeful to see Newt get destroyed by Obama? Yes. Would I be over the moon to watch the FOX/Limbaugh industrial-complex stymied? YES. A thousand times, yes. But I also want conservatism in the U.S. to return to its senses, for all our sakes. I think it needs its Goldwater moment again, to be so thoroughly destroyed that it has no choice but to reject the Palin/Bachman/Santorum wing of the party, to discredit the FOX contingent, and to embrace its intelligent spokespeople.
Of course, I say this knowing that a Gingrich-Obama showdown holds a 1% chance of Newt winning. At which point, Newfoundland doesn’t feel far enough away and I might start looking for English-language universities in Sweden.