Just one week ago, I used this column to concede that the GOP establishment had prevailed in its primary process, and that Mitt Romney was likely headed to the nomination.
What a difference a week makes, huh?
Public Policy Polling, which nailed South Carolina’s results, showed Gingrich with a 38 percent to 33 percent lead in Florida after its Monday night polling. By Monday, InsiderAdvantage had Gingrich up 34 percent to 26 percent, while Rasmussen gave Gingrich a 41 percent to 32 percent lead. A victory in Florida would deliver the money and momentum Gingrich would need to extend this primary season to the bitter end.
Democrats can’t believe their luck! Romney is getting bloodied on economic populist grounds, with his record at Bain Capital suddenly a major campaign liability. It’s no accident that Gingrich rose in the polls the more he attacked Romney’s business record, while Rick Santorum faded as he defended it. When the dust settled in South Carolina, the only income group Romney had won was his friends — those making more than $200,000 per year.
Who knew that the Occupy movement would have such an impact in the Republican primary?
If Romney survives, he will be a far weaker general-election candidate than just a week or two ago. Meanwhile, Gingrich is about to get walloped by the combined forces of Santorum and Romney, reminding voters of his lobbying and ethics problems. Even if he survives the onslaught, he won’t come out unscathed. And it’s not as if he starts this contest with a reservoir of good will from the general public. They already hate him.
Three recent polls confirm just how unsavory Gingrich is in the eyes of America. CBS News/New York Times found that 17 percent viewed him favorably, 49 percent unfavorably. Fox News had it at 27 percent favorable, 56 percent unfavorable, with CNN coming in at 28 percent favorable, 58 percent unfavorable. In all three polls, both Romney and President Obama came in with significantly better numbers.
That’s why establishment Republican forces are sweating the latest numbers. Romney surrogate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was not circumspect: “Newt Gingrich has embarrassed the party over time. Whether he’ll do it again in the future I don’t know, but Gov. Romney never has.” Meanwhile, Mississippi political consultant Henry Barbour (ain’t nepotism grand?) said, “I like having a Republican Speaker of the House. [Gingrich] puts all our down-ticket candidates at risk.”
But nothing warmed Democratic hearts more than former John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Cybersecurity: Retired general picked to head DHS | Graham vows to probe Russian election interference Senate holds two-hour Biden lovefest Graham says he'll lead probe of Russian intervention in election MORE adviser Steve Schmidt on Saturday.
“[N]ot only are we not moving toward a coalescing of support by the Republican establishment for Newt Gingrich, we’re probably moving toward the declaration of war on Newt Gingrich by the Republican establishment,” he said. “And if Newt Gingrich is able to win the Florida primary, you will see a panic and a meltdown of the Republican establishment that is beyond my ability to articulate in the English language.”
Could Democrats really be this lucky?
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).