WOULD DEMOCRATS MISUNDERESTIMATE GINGRICH?
I didn't put much stock in the Rasmussen poll last week that had Gingrich ahead of Obama by 2 points, because, well, it's Rasmussen -- but I'm more concerned about Quinnipiac's swing state polling:
FLORIDA: Romney 45 - Obama 42; Obama 46 - Gingrich 44
OHIO: Romney 43 - Obama 42; Gingrich 43 - Obama 42
PENNSYLVANIA: Obama 46 - Romney 43; Obama 48 - Gingrich 40
Romney clearly does better than Gingrich against Obama in these states -- but Gingrich in obviously competitive.
And why not? We laugh at right-wingers for being gulled by Gingrich's nonsensical pronouncements, but why are we so certain than swing voters and Democratic moderates won't react the same way? On the surface, it doesn't seem like the same problem we had "misunderestimating" the appeal of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush -- they seemed empty-headed, whereas Gingrich's head, whatever else you can say about it, is certainly not empty -- but I think we may be looking at two variations of the same problem. A lot of voters don't know very much, so the pronouncements of W and Reagan didn't seem simplistic or at odds with reality. Gingrich also has the potential to fool people who don't bring a lot of knowledge to the table: if you don't know much about medicine, for instance, on the subject of vaccines you may well give as much credence to Jenny McCarthy as to the head of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, just because they both use big words, and she's passionate. That's what Newt has the potential to be: the political equivalent of Jenny McCarthy, with equally frightening levels of public trust, and even more damaging results.
This New York Times story suggests that Team Obama is starting to take Gingrich somewhat seriously, and has a few fairly sharp things to say about him, but I think the response has a long way to go:
..."Look, for the longest time, Gingrich was not really a factor in this race, he was left for dead at the checkout counter at Tiffany’s," said David Axelrod, a chief adviser to the president's re-election bid. "Now he is resurgent and he could be the nominee."
That impresses the insiders and politics mavens who know about Gingrich's spending at Tiffany's. For most of the electorate, I think that misses the mark. (Most Americans have way less class anger than they should have.)
The White House and its allies are starting to turn their sights to Newt Gingrich, invoking his tumultuous history as House speaker to brand him as the "godfather of gridlock" ...
"It wasn't that long ago, and the debates and the tactics were very much what we're dealing with today," Mr. Axelrod said. "I mean it was shutting down the government in order to defund the E.P.A., and to defund education programs and to cut Medicare in order to give tax cuts to the wealthy. These guys are in the back-to-the-future machine."
This line of attack might work a lot better if there were more talk -- especially more talk from Obama himself -- about the fact that gridlock in American politics is a partisan problem, caused by Republican ideologues. Instead, Obama is just as likely to blame "Washington" as to blame GOP intransigence or GOP extremism (well, maybe lately he's been a tad more partisan, but he's got a lot to make up for), so he's reinforced what people in the middle believe: that all politicians are equally awful and they all just fight like kids in a sandbox. So you can say that Gingrich fought that way in the '90s, therefore he's a prime example of what's wrong with Washington -- but Barack Obama is the president of the United States. Obama's inevitably going to lose any "who's the real insider?" contest.
If I were the Obama people, I'd go right after Gingrich on the brainiac stuff -- I'd recognize that moderates as well as conservatives might be fooled into believing that Newt is a really smart guy, and I'd try to focus on some of his nuttier ideas.
Oddly, Ann Coulter is doing a better job at this than the Democrats (though, of course, it's more urgent for her, since she wants Romney to win and we'd still prefer Newt):
... The day after the Republicans' historic takeover of the House of Representatives in the 1994 election, Newt was off and running, giving a series of Fidel Castro-style speeches about "the Third Wave information revolution." It had the unmistakable ring of lingo from his new-age gurus, Alvin and Heidi Toffler....
A few weeks later, when Newt was elected House speaker by the incoming Republican conference, there was a small elderly couple standing by his side as he gave a one-hour acceptance speech. It soon became clear who they were, when he issued a reading list to the Republican legislators. At the top of the list was a book by the Tofflers.
Hadn't Republicans just won on a platform of smaller government? Instead of a Republican victory, the '94 election seemed to be a victory for the Tofflers' cyber-babble about "social wavefront analysis," "anticipatory democracy," "de-massification," "materialismo," "the Third Wave" and "decision loads."
Then, in his first week as speaker, Gingrich was again promoting the Tofflers around town, introducing them at a technology conference and giving a speech titled "From Virtuality to Reality."
... Gingrich soon announced that all legislation passed by the new Congress would have to pass a test: Will it help move America into the Tofflers' vision of a "Third Wave"?
If this guy ever became president, he could end up foisting EST on the nation....
Gingrich will lose badly if the Democrats can turn him into some combination of Comic Book Guy and Ralph Wiggum -- a socially inept crank/daydreamer who clearly spends too much time alone in his room and spouts space-cadet nonsense and non sequiturs. On the other hand, if Democrats don't take Gingrich's reputation as an intellect head-on, they may be fooled by how many people fall for his malarkey.
UPDATE: Democrats? When and if the time comes, hit him with stuff like this.