Judging Presidential Campaigns

Reprinted from Mullings.com

No campaign for President is a straight line upward. Some campaigns are a flat line; some are a straight line down, but no Republican in a contested cycle has ever run the table.

Didn’t happen in 2012, either.

There is a theory in politics that the proper time to judge a campaign isn’t when everything is going well. The time to judge a campaign is how they recover from a stumble.

Ok. That’s not really a widely held theory, but I say it all the time and I think it’s true.

Last week Mitt Romney got skunked in South Carolina by Newt Gingrich. Over the course of five days and two debates Gingrich returned a punt, a fumble, and an interception, scored on a safety and pinned Obama deep in his own territory – everything an opposing candidate could have done within the football metaphors of Superbowl week.

Then came Florida. Big. Diverse. Expensive.

Romney and his campaign righted the ship and put the big hurt on Gingrich. Beat him by just under a quarter of a million votes. In fact, Gingrich and Rick Santorum’s votes combined didn’t equal Romney’s total.

That, in spite of Romney not just fending off his GOP opponents, but fending off something on the order of $6 million in negative ads from at least two unions, the Obama campaign and Obama’s Super PAC.

Obama does not want to run against Romney. He wants to run against Gingrich, or Santorum, or Paul.

After Gingrich got beaten up in Iowa by an onslaught of negative ads by Romney and his Super PAC his concession speech was all Angry Newt. Gingrich didn’t have the money to retaliate and tried to pretend he was going to be the Good Newt and he got hammered. On caucus night, when we all thought Romney had won, Gingrich’s anger and frustration overwhelmed him.

Gingrich was not a factor in New Hampshire and, properly, focused on South Carolina. A combination of Gingrich’s spectacular debate performances and millions of dollars poured into his Super PAC by a Las Vegas billionaire allowed him to attack Romney and pull off a big win.

The afterglow of that win on Saturday lasted until about Tuesday when Gingrich’s blah debate performance the night before, coupled with a well-organized Romney ground operation and millions and millions of dollars in TV advertising caused Gingrich’s numbers to plummet in Florida.

In the final Florida debate Gingrich seemed unprepared, tired, and off-balance. He who lives by the debate shall die by the debate. Two deadly debate performances did Gingrich in.

In his – we can’t call it a concession speech because he never mentioned, much less congratulated, Mitt Romney – remarks following the results in Florida Gingrich wasn’t angry, but it appeared he had not been playing close attention to the results.

At one point in his speech I Tweeted: Newt does know he lost, right?

The problem Gingrich faces now is there is not much on the horizon for the next three weeks that can change the story line (I’m trying to avoid the word, “narrative”) from his big loss last night. He will be lucky to come in third in the Nevada caucuses on February 4, the next debate isn’t until February 22, he is not likely to do terribly well in the seven-or-so electoral events this month so by the time we get to Georgia on Super Tuesday (March 6) Newt will have had nothing good going on to change the trajectory of the campaign.

Look for Gingrich, starting in about 30 minutes, to begin challenging Romney to a series of 27 Lincoln-Douglas debates each three hours in length with no pesky moderators.

That ignores Rick Santorum who has over a million dollars in the bank and has no reason to get out of this race. Santorum believes as deeply as does Gingrich that he (Santorum) is the true conservative and thus the true anti-Romney in the race.

It would not be terribly surprising if Santorum, through sheer will power, came in ahead of Gingrich in the Nevada caucuses.

Mitt Romney is in the driver’s seat. The win in Florida last night not just puts the wind at his back, but allows him to run wing-and-wing will all sails aloft in the biggest, fastest boat with the best crew in this race.

If the Obama campaign learned anything this week it was this: Mitt Romney didn’t get to be Mitt Romney by rolling over and whimpering in the face of adversity.

If Florida was the first round in the Fall election, Romney is now ahead on points.

I do know that I have used a football, a sailing, a car racing, and a boxing metaphor in this column. If I could have come up with a curling phrase I might have thrown that in, as well.

Editor’s Note: Rich Galen is former communications director for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Dan Quayle. In 2003-2004, he did a six-month tour of duty in Iraq at the request of the White House engaging in public affairs with the Department of Defense. He also served as executive director of GOPAC and served in the private sector with Electronic Data Systems. Rich is a frequent lecturer and appears often as a political expert on ABC, CNN, Fox and other news outlets.