When you’re on top, people try to bring you down. Especially when you keep telling people you’re on top.
Actually, while this may be a general rule, it hasn’t really applied to the 2012 Republican presidential race. Romney has been at or near the top more or less throughout the campaign so far, but he has, interestingly enough, avoided the vicious attacks one might have expected. Even Romneycare, his (deeply unpopular among Republicans) proto-Obamacare health reform in Massachusetts, has been spared. Sure, Rick Perry went after it in a TV ad aired in October, but people didn’t seem to care, and it continues to be one of the surprises of this campaign that it hasn’t been a dominant issue, the main target of the various anti-Romneys who have alternated as Romney’s main rival.
But there’s a reason for this, and it’s that the anti-Romneys have all been incredibly weak, rising and falling quickly: Michele Bachmann, Perry, Herman Cain. They’ve been struggling so much either to get to the top or to stay there that they haven’t had the comfort of launching a sustained attack on Romney from a position of security.
Plus, they’ve all been so incredibly incompetent. Bachmann is the best communicator of the three, but she wasn’t Romney’s main rival for long, and it certainly wasn’t long before her message imploded, her campaign right along with it. Perry is a terrible communicator whose campaign has been a string of gaffes and embarrassments. Cain can only communicate simple things and has no political capacity whatsoever for anything other than self-aggrandizing inanity, and of course his campaign, ever since he gained some notoriety as a possibly serious contender, has been plagued by scandal, stupidity, and ineptitude. All of this has allowed Romney to remain above the fray, deeply unpopular with Republicans but on top because the anti-Romney constituency that dominates the GOP has been fractured, unable and unwilling to get behind a credible alternative.
And it looks like he might just pull this off.
(And, yes, I still can’t believe it’s come to this. Like many others, I’d written him off long ago.)
The way things are going, the race will come down to Romney and Gingrich, with Ron Paul likely still around as the libertarian alternative with a small but enthusiastic base in the party. At some point, that is, Romney will have to join the fray. He’ll be pulled in, regardless. And once he’s secure as the anti-Romney, Gingrich will no doubt turn his attention to trying to bring down Romney. But that’s down the road, perhaps after Gingrich firmly establishes his position by doing well in Iowa, the the next battlefield in Romney’s backyard of New Hampshire. Then things could get nasty.
For now, though, it’s the others with no hope at all of winning who are aiming their sights at those at the top. We’ve seen Jon Huntsman do it in presenting himself as the only reasonable alternative to the extremism that dominates the Republican presidential field, but now it’s Paul taking the initiative with a blistering assault on… Newt Gingrich:
Texas Rep. Ron Paul is tearing into Republican presidential rival Newt Gingrich with a new web ad that ranks among the most scathing of the year.
Hitting similar themes that the Democrats used earlier this week with a video highlighting Mitt Romney’s litany of flip-flops, the Paul campaign blasts the former House speaker in a video entitled: “Newt Gingrich: Serial Hypocrisy.”
Largely using news clips from recent weeks, the ad seeks to paint Mr. Gingrich as a paid hatchet man for the health-care industry and the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. It is also heavy with clips of conservative icons such as Rush Limbaugh and Rep. Paul Ryan taking swipes at Mr. Gingrich’s positions.
The video will not run on television. But the Paul campaign is promising to send it “to a far-reaching email list of conservative voters nationally, including in key early voting states.”
Newt has certainly provided a lot of material over the years. He used to care about climate change, for example, and he actually has somewhat humane views on immigration, and earlier this year he even went after Republican wunderkind Paul Ryan, calling Ryan’s budget plan “radical” and “right-wing social engineering” before ultimately caving in, apologizing, and begging for forgiveness. He may not have quite the unacceptable past that Romney does (he’s certainly never been a moderate, not even close; a good term for him might be “eccentric conservative”), and he may not be quite as shameless a political opportunist as Romney is (though he certainly is one, flipping and flopping on a wide variety of issues, including notably the military campaign in Libya this year), but there’s a lot for his opponents to exploit.
And now that he’s the co-frontrunner with Romney, and even on top in some states, building his campaign as quickly as possible now that he’s actually got a shot, he’s an obvious target. Maybe Paul thinks it will soon be his turn at the top and is only trying to expedite Gingrich’s inevitable collapse. Whatever the case, it will never be Paul, and a Gingrich collapse would only mean an easier Romney win, but nonetheless Paul’s efforts to go after Gingrich are significant. They indicate that Gingrich is indeed a genuine contender to be reckoned with, that Gingrich will have to start playing defence, and that the race, with the voting set to start just over a month from now, is about to get a whole lot uglier.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)