06 February 2012

Fallout from the Nevada Caucuses

On Saturday, Nevada held caucuses for the Republican Presidential nomination.  While the overall results were not shocking, but the fallout from the caucuses is shocking.  Mitt Romney scored a 51% victory in the 2008 cycle.  Some have speculated that Nevada’s 10% Mormon population would also help bolster his chances for the 2012 Nevada caucuses.  When the returns eventually came in a day and a half after the polls closed., Romney won 50.1% of the caucus vote, followed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA 6th) with 21.1%,  Representative Ron Paul (R-24th) trailing with 18.8% and former Senator Rick Santorum scoring only 10% of caucus support.

In the run up to the caucuses, real estate magnate and The Apprentice TV show host Donald Trump announced with great fanfare who he endorsed.  There were rumors that Gingrich might have gotten the “You’re Hired” nod from the Donald.  But in the end, Romney won Trump’s endorsement.  This was intriguing as unlike Newt, Mitt Romney refused to participate in Trump’s scuttled debate on the Ion Network in December. But Trump likes going with a winner and he figured that he could exploit the moment and get on the right side at the same time.

Even though this was a West Coast contest with later start times, the delays in tabulating the results is embarrassing.  Not having 75% of the caucus results 18 hours after the polls close is stunning.  There was also controversy associated with some of the late caucuses.  Some have cited the influence of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, there was a caucus held after sundown to accommodate Orthodox Jewish voters.  But some potential participants were interrogated as to whether they were taking part in the late caucus because of Sabbath observation.

Another interesting side effect from the Nevada vote is the failure of Ron Paul to do better in the caucuses.  Nevada is a Western state which embraces libertarian values (gambling, legalized prostitution). The Paul campaign dumped $3 million into Nevada.  Moreover, Paulistinians are enthusiastic youthful supporters who seemingly would be amenable to participating in caucuses.  Had Paul placed in second, it would have generated significant headlines but placing in third generated no momentum for the Ron Paul Revolution.

After experiencing Gingrich’s  gracelessness in ignoring campaign protocol last week in Florida, Romney was wise not to wait for Newt’s concession call before Mitt made his victory speech.    Romney gave a short but spirited stemwinder speech to thank  600 supporters at the Red Rocks Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Romney’s remarks focused all of his firepower on not re-electing President Obama. Most of Romney’s  rhetoric was standard stump speech material, with priory pithy philippics like “Obama’s friends in the faculty lounge” and “Our blueprint is the Constitution of the United States.  We will build an America where ‘hope’ is a new job with a paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker."  But the Romney campaign added a line that spoke about protecting American’s religious liberty from governmental encroachments.  This strong reaction to the HHS Secretary Sebelius’ free contraception mandate for all qualifying health plans is a trifecta.  The line is a principled attack against Obamacare, which deflects any connection with Romneycare.  In addition, the issues will make inroads with Catholics threatened by the measure. Furthermore, it provides cover for Romney will Evangelicals  who might be skeptical about Mitt’s Mormon faith.

Newt Gingrich held a remarkable event after placing second in Nevada.  Gingrich pointedly switched his appearance from a large (but not filled) ballroom into a smaller chamber. The optics made it look like a small hotel seminar room filled with reporters and a smattering of true believers.   Instead of giving a speech thanking his caucus supporters, Newt gave a press conference in which he sounded  whiney, petulant and fixated on Mitt Romney.  The Gingrich campaign had led the press to believe that Newt’s presser would reveal a major change in campaign strategy by going positive (again).


It appeared that Gingrich was unsettled by campaign scuttlebutt which he thought came from the Romney campaign that Newt was poised to drop out of the race.  But the reporters were treated to a litany of familiar charges against his primary rival.  Gingrich effortlessly labeled Romney as a candidate who was pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase candidate of the establishment that  George Soros would approve.  Reporters chuckled when they questioned about Mitt Romney getting inside Gingrich’s head.  Newt offered a truculent reply wondering if the questioner had a psychology degree.  But almost all of Gingrich’s answers revolved around Romney.  There was no mention of the new Contract with America that Newt spouted in his Florida non-victory speech.

Newt returned to vaunting his debating prowess, challenging Romney to a debate anytime and anywhere, however Gingrich did not suggest a Lincoln Douglass debate, nor did he stipulate whether the audience needed to applaud.

It was interesting how far into the tall grass Gingrich got in answering beat reporters questions. Gingrich’s allusion about Romney being “endorsed” by George Soros may bolster Newt’s 25% support among strong conservatives and 33% of the strong Tea Party vote as shown from entrance polls, but it will cause blank stares from most voters.  It was curious how much Newt was willing to publically talk about his ersthwhile strong SuperPAC supporter Sheldon Adelson, as his frankness could quicken the casino magnets gravitation towards Romney.  But such public discussions of SuperPAC support could be considered coordination and be in violation of FEC campaign law.

Gingrich insisted that he could not run a positive campaign because his main opponent lied about him during the debates and outspent him.  These excuses undercut Newt’s conceit that he would be the best opposition to Obama.  If Newt is such a master debater, he should have been able to perry against perceived midrepresentations, either during the debate or in the spin room afterwards.  Instead, Gingrich has complained about the lack of audience participation in the NBC debate.  As for being outspent by his opponents, it reveals two fundamental deficiencies about Gingrich’s campaign strategy.  Firstly, important parts of a presidential campaign are organization and fundraising.  Newt has made the necessity of running a shoe string campaign using earned media from public forums into a virtue. But Newt’s reliance on a practically pro se defense of his record does not require his opponents to tie their hands behind their backs.  Moreover, if Gingrich is now being outspent by Romney, imagine his consternation when the Obama re-elect machine and associated SuperPACs start their barrage against the Republican nominee.

The gathered reporters pressed Newt about rumors of running a positive campaign. Gingrich demurred noting that a totally positive campaign did not work in Iowa.  Besides, Gingrich mused that the Lamestream Media would not cover him if he had just a positive message.  This was a strategic mistake.  The post caucus speech was being covered live by news channels. Newt managed to make waves by sounding angry in New Hampshire and waxing grandiousley about a new Contract With America in his Florida non-victory speech.  Gingrich had live television coverage and he chose to whine about Romney for most of the time.  It was a wasted opportunity, which cost Newt even more because of his campaign's reliance on earned media.

To be fair, Gingrich did have one marquee moment during his post Nevada Caucus event.  When the subject of how Catholics reacted to the HHS birth control mandate, Gingrich first offered a sarcastic response that  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 6th) knows more than a litany of Catholic bishops.  But Gingrich quickly revisited the question and gave a spirited, constitutional rejoinder which echoed defiance of this assault on the First Amendment.

While the Gingrich presser might not have had the Dean Scream soundbite, the defensive posture, the obsession with his opponent and using obscure references at what traditionally would be a rally seemed like the dramatic self inflected wounds which political observers have been expecting.  Even though the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses are on Tuesday along with the Missouri beauty contest, the press from the Super Bowl might shield Newt from the fallout of Newt’s unfortunate yet iconic campaign moment after the Nevada Caucuses.

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