While Mitt Romney scored a major victory over rival Newt Gingrich in the Florida presidential primary Tuesday, it is a bit early to write the former House speaker’s obituary. This is a man who twice already has arisen like Lazarus after being presumed politically dead.
So how does Gingrich launch his rebound? Politico
lists five paths to redemption.
1. Take out a Contract on Romney
Gingrich would seem to have a clear advantage over the former Massachusetts governor in the ideas department. But in Florida, Gingrich offered a scattershot message when it came to policy proposals — from space travel, to religious freedom, to the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Gingrich has yet to present a coherent policy platform.
But it looks like he’s headed in that direction. In his speech after the Florida primary, Gingrich said, “in the next few days, we’re going to develop the equivalent of the contract from 1994,” the policy package that helped Republicans gain control of the House. A small set of major proposals could energize the party’s conservative base.
“Nobody argues that Newt Gingrich isn’t a brilliant ideas man, but he needs to be laser-focused and have a cohesive, consistent message if he wants to break through,” Florida-based GOP strategist Ana Navarro told Politico. “There were just way too many messages coming out of Newt Gingrich in Florida.”
2. Embrace the Conservative Media Circus
In Politico’s eyes, Gingrich has not done enough to cultivate this crucial constituency. It acknowledges that “Gingrich is a favorite of talk radio hosts and Fox News opinion-makers. He’s been endorsed by Herman Cain and Michael Reagan and Todd Palin — and very nearly by Sarah Palin, too.”
But, “Gingrich hasn’t yet taken full advantage of the conservative media world’s sympathy,” Politico says. “He appeared with Reagan and Cain ahead of the Florida primary, but far too late for it to have an impact. He gave plenty of conservative radio interviews, but didn’t effectively use them to mobilize an insurrection against Romney.”
Gingrich can continue to travel with high-profile endorsers and engage more talk radio hosts.
“You have to remember: talk radio is a business. A protracted campaign gins up interest, listeners and revenue,” a former top radio producer told Politico. “Newt and Romney may both have liberal skeletons in their closets, but at least Newt speaks in the native tongue of conservatives. He knows how to throw out a zinger of a sound bite.”
3. Demand More Debates
Gingrich’s strong debate performances are what brought his candidacy back from the dead the first time around. So the more chances he gets to appear in that medium the better. Gingrich has spent some time on the campaign trail demanding seven lengthy debates with President Barack Obama if he wins the nomination.
But Gingrich would probably be better off making that demand of Romney. At this point the next debate isn’t scheduled until Feb. 22.
“The notion that Newt can somehow lie low for a whole month, the month of February, and then come roaring back on Super Tuesday — history tells us it just doesn’t work that way,” Rich Galen, a Republican strategist who formerly advised Gingrich, told Politico. “He’ll say to some reporter, ‘You know, you need to ask Romney why he won’t debate me 15 times, Lincoln-Douglas style. He’ll go back to that kind of thing.”
4. Count on Santorum and Paul to Muddy the Race
Most pundits maintain that the continuation of Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in the race hurts Gingrich. The idea is that the three of them divide conservative votes, handing primaries to Romney.
But some polls show that supporters of Santorum and Paul would not back Gingrich if their man withdraws. Moreover, Paul and Santorum may run strongest in states where Gingrich will not win, but Romney might. For Gingrich, it is probably better that Paul and Santorum score a few wins in February primaries/caucuses than that Romney sweeps the table. The more it looks like the race remains in play, the better Gingrich’s chances.
5. Keep Up the Identity Politics
Gingrich gained traction with his attack of Romney in Florida for failing to protect Catholics. He noted the similarity in Romney’s approach to emergency birth control to Obama’s.
“I would like him to respect our religion,” Gingrich, who is Catholic, told a campaign rally in Tampa. That seemed to get Romney’s goat.
In his post-Florida victory address, Romney promised to defend “religious liberty,” a break from his usual stump speech. Gingrich can tap into the beliefs of angry, non-wealthy whites who do not see either Romney or Obama sharing their values. Romney has shown nothing but discomfort when it comes to discussing his wealth or his religion in the campaign so far. Gingrich has a clear opportunity to exploit that advantage.
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