Wargaming the Senate if Newt Is the Nominee: The Conventional Wisdom May Be All Wrong

As Newt Gingrich’s challenge to the anointment of Mitt Romney heats up, the newest line of attack against the erratic former Speaker by the Romneyites is not so much that Newt is unelectable – that’s assumed, and not unreasonably. It’s that in November the voters will recoil in horror at the Republican presidential ticket, and that Newt will take the GOP’s hopes for the Senate down with him, leaving Obama in total control of the Republic.

There are plenty of problems with a Newt Gingrich nomination – most of them a direct result of Newt’s own antics – but the developing conventional wisdom that he will be toxic to Republican Senate chances may just be totally off-base. In fact, a Newt nomination could be the best possible thing for winning a GOP Senate majority – ironically because of people who don’t think he has a chance in hell in the general election.

The GOP has great expectations for the Senate in 2012 – winning just four seats (five if Senator Kirk fails to recover from his recent stroke and the Democratic governor of Illinois appoints another Roland Burris as the replacement before his traditional indictment) will capture the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body from the clutches of Harry Reid and the Democrats.

With the Democrat party playing defense on many more at-risk seats, the percentages are in the GOP’s favor. Moreover, many of the senators up for elections are “conservative Democrats,” which mean flaming liberals who talk a good game about being “fiscally conservative” and “moderate” back home in their blood-red states. With the Obama economy especially painful in the middle of the country – the administration’s stimulus money disproportionately rewarded the urban and academic communities whose support Obama is unshakeable – it should be a cakewalk not only to grab the majority but press on toward the magic number of 60.

Enter Newt.

With Romney, people expected an inoffensive technocrat who would not scare the children or horses – someone who could get the votes of the moderate voters who get turned off by things like “ideology” or “confrontation” or “beliefs.” Maybe Mitt would not be much of an asset to an aspiring GOP Senate candidate, but he would certainly not drag anyone down. That is the conventional wisdom about Mitt.

But Newt shakes up that paradigm. The new conventional wisdom is that Newt’s caravan of baggage will so turn off voters that not only will they hand the GOP a rejection of Mondalian proportions in November but they will further take out their anger on the GOP’s senate candidates. So, the conventional wisdom goes, Obama will sail to reelection with a rejuvenated Senate majority and perhaps even the House. There goes the Republic.

Except the conventional wisdom, upon closer examination, makes little sense even on its own terms. It assumes that the voters are at least disappointed, if not angry, with Obama – if they weren’t, he would win no matter who we nominate. It also depends completely on the assumption that the intense dislike that the majority of voters feel for Newt personally is the reason for his inevitable failure. These two currents do not flow together – they collide.

Voters rejecting Newt would therefore be doing it not because they wanted Obama – they do not want Obama. They just want Newt less. But that personal animus toward Newt would not necessarily be transferred toward the GOP senate candidates themselves.

Newt is uniquely polarizing, argues the conventional wisdom. If so, then it will be an easy matter for GOP Senate candidates to distinguish themselves from the guy at the top of the ticket. Candidates always scatter like roaches when an unpopular presidential candidate wanders into town. Just look at Obama when he flew into reddish Arizona– he wasn’t met by a herd of donkeys but by Republican Jan Brewer, whose politeness in doing so was met with characteristic ungraciousness.

In fact, distaste for Newt coupled with distaste for Obama could help GOP Senate candidates. Holding their nose to vote to reelect the president does not mean they want to give him the ability to keep going with the politics of division, bailouts and class warfare that have wreaked his approval numbers. Suddenly, voting for the Senate GOP candidates becomes much more attractive, even to moderates, when splitting the ticket means kneecapping the Obama campaign to transform America into the United States of Greece.

Voters aren’t dumb. They know that a GOP senate is the best check on a lame duck Obama, and they may even be willing to split the ticket to vote out Democrat warhorses like Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who might otherwise have no chance of defeat, in order to balance their vote against Newt. In other words, Newt dragging down the top of the ticket might well give a boost to the bottom.

Newt has problems as a candidate – huge ones that may or may not be insurmountable. However, even if he goes down in flames there is no reason why the GOP hopes for the Senate must burn with him. The GOP needs to recruit quality candidates and needs to support them with money and resources. The candidates themselves must play their hands wisely, and must not hesitate to cast-off from Newt if one of his periodic implosions threatens to sink the national ticket.

If the GOP and its candidates do these things, the conventional wisdom, as it often is, may once again be proven wrong.


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