Why Newt Supporters Think He’s Electable
Just when hardcore conservatives had seemed prepared to settle for Mitt Romney to avoid further exposure of intraparty divisions, Newt Gingrich’s unlikely recovery has brought those divisions sharply and publicly into view. As Politico reported yesterday, conservative elites ranging from Tom Delay to Bob Dole have gone to the media en masseto warn voters of the perils of Newt. The Republican Party has rarely seemed more divided, and at the heart of those divisions is a disconnect between Republican elites and the voting base over the crucial issue of electability. Ironically, it is a disconnect that the elites are themselves partly responsible for creating.
Electability, of course, has long been Mitt Romney’s trump card, buttressed by a long series of general election polls showing him as the strongest candidate against Barack Obama. Beyond the polls, Romney best fits the entrenched Beltway conventional wisdom that candidates perceived as more moderate do best in close presidential elections. At the same time, most Republican opinion leaders think Gingrich could be a general election disaster, thanks to his long record of erratic public and private behavior and a personality that has often seemed unattractive to everyone other than stone partisans.
National Review’s editors tried to make it plain two days ago:
Amid all the tumult of the last 18 years there has been this constant: Gingrich has never been popular. Polls have never shown more than 43 percent of the public viewing him favorably at any point in his career. Gingrich backers say that he is inspiring. What he mostly seems to inspire is opposition.
But actual voters don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Exit polls in South Carolina showed that Gingrich beat Romney soundly (by a 51-37 margin) among the 45% of primary voters who said “can defeat Obama” was the candidate quality they valued most. The latest PPP poll of Florida, which gives Gingrich a 38 to 33 lead over Romney, shows the two candidates tied at 37 percent in terms of who has the best chance of beating Obama.