Getting out ahead of the year-end, expecting that I won’t bungle anything over the next five days, I have published my second annual “pundit audit.” My mea culpa-est item: The failure to believe Gingrich could become the next anti-Mitt.
It seemed obvious at the time: Newt Gingrich couldn’t possibly bounce to the top of the GOP race. After reading a bunch of pieces on the topic, I confidently argued that Paul Bedard of U.S. News and Scott Conroy of Real Clear Politics had it all wrong. “Gingrich is campaigning independently of the field,” I reasoned. “You can see the finish line in his eyes: enhanced stature, new requests for TV and speaking jobs, new books.” These guys were clearly just writing columns for column-writing sake.
No, they weren’t. The candidate-to-candidate polling didn’t suggest that Gingrich was surging, but other evidence did. Republican voters who had given up on Gingrich after he appeared to trash Paul Ryan’s budget (Ryan certainly thought he had) had forgiven him. Gingrich hadn’t really factored in the fights between candidates, in debates or elsewhere, and the candidates who let the other guys implode almost always benefit. (Ask John Kerry.) If Rick Perry faltered, yes, Herman Cain stood to benefit. But Cain was never a credible candidate who could go the distance against Mitt Romney. He’d never been vetted. Gingrich had. He didn’t seem to know anything about anything. Gingrich did.
To worry the wound a little further: After 2007, it should not have surprised me that there was a statute of limitations on heretical issue positions. In 2007, John McCain picked a months-long fight with the base over immigration policy. I figured they’d remember this, even after the immigration bill foundered in the Senate. Nope. After a few months, the issue faded, and McCain won back his old support. (Ron Paul, actually, ran ads trying to capture the anti-immigrant mood, showing dark-skinned people slithering over the border, but it didn’t do him much good.)