When last we checked in to the Republican Presidential Primary, it appeared Newt had sewed it up. After almost all of the other Republican candidates had had their moment in the sun, coming off a strong debate Newt had taken the reigns as the apparent choice. He had the public profile needed, he spoke with a smugness that seemed to indicate intelligence, he didn't seem to be a lunatic, in other words he was a perfect candidate. But throughout the whole race, Newt had been held back by unfavorables he accrued during his tenure as Speaker of the House. As a newer political commentator, I had not yet reached my formative years during that period, and thus merely assumed his unlikability was the standard repulsion I feel for many Republicans, and not a unique form of douchebaggery. Boy was I wrong. First came the revelation that his doctoral thesis had been in praise of Belgian educational policy in the Congo. For those of you who failed to make the connection, the Belgian rule of the Congo was horrific and brutal, to the extent that it is the subject of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." "Heart of Darkness," was spun off into "Apocalypse Now," so by transitivity, his doctoral thesis was a celebration of the insane Colonol Kurtz. Taken with his earlier comment, that Obama had inherited from his father an "anti-colonial world view," as well as his assertion that many poor(read black) kids grew up without anyone around them having a work ethic, Mr. Gingrich began to appear, at least in the view of this Blog, as a white supremacist. His rhetoric sounds like the 'white mans burden.'
The Republican's had their own problems with Newt. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, Reagan's press secretary, wrote that Gingrich was "inspiring...and disturbing," and that those who personally knew him didn't support him. The National Review editorial board also took a whack at him, arguing that nominating Gingrich characteristics were his “impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas.” Additionally, Gingrich's take on immigration, he would refuse to throw out people that had been in the country for 25 years and had strong community ties, was not significantly hardline enough for many Republicans. Furthermore, Gingrich did not appear to have the infrastructure needed to win the Iowa Caucuses. The caucus is a unique manner of choosing a primary winner which rewards organization and passion. Newt had been running a bare bones campaign in Iowa, and many cast doubts on his ability to win. This week comes the news that Newt has slipped back into 3rd behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, and it seems his moment in the sun has passed.
Amidst Newt's fall, comes Ron Paul's surprising durability. Paul has an excellent organization in Iowa, and inspires tons of passion in his supporters. But Paul can't seem to expand his base beyond about 25%, his views on American empire and the War on Drugs, while in my opinion honorable, are too far out of line with mainstream Republican thought. The threat of Mr. Paul winning Iowa, has caused consternation in the state that it will cause it's caucus to lose credibility, and with it it's cherished first in the nation status. The Republican Governor of the state, Terry Branstad, has essentially said that national Republicans should ignore a Paul win and look at who comes in 2nd or 3rd. On Republican blogs, commentors are apoplectic about a possible Paul victory, treating him with the disdain normally reserved for Democrats. A Paul win, they say, could lead to a brokered convention and a damaged party.
In an example of just how unsettled this race is, Sarah Palin claimed today that it was not too late for her, or someone else, to explore a run. In all likelihood, Palin won't run and this statement is intended to garner media attention. Still, her proclamation comes just two weeks before the Iowa debate, and some are speculating Palin or Jeb Bush might make a run. This seems natural given the apparent distress the Republican base has felt about nominating one of the contenders. It's worth noting that the Republican party wasn't electrified by John McCain in 2008, several other candidates won primaries, and McCain's win felt as though it happened by default. The lack of passion McCain engendered likely hurt his chances against the Democratic juggernaut Obama, and the enthusiasm surrounding his campaign.
Suffice it to say this has been a long and strange campaign and we haven't even held a primary yet. Likely, once the votes start to come in we'll have a little more clarity. That said it seems like a long and costly primary season might hurt the Republicans, who need to run against the well-funded Obama. Obama seems to have Democratic support coalescing, while the Republicans appear to be fracturing. This is not to say that Obama will win reelection in a cake walk, just that it's hard to envision one of these current contenders beating him in a head to head matchup.