Fresh off a series of poor primary showings, Newt Gingrich attended a tea party town hall in Pasadena–a city adjacent to Los Angeles–last night, where he spoke to a packed crowd and took some questions. From the electricity and high energy in the room, one would never know that Newt is basically last in the new polls, far behind Mitt Romney and the new flavor of the month, Rick Santorum.
There were about 250 people in attendance to hear Newt speak about American energy, the welfare state, and the problems liberalism has caused California. He optimistically stated:
I don’t see any reason with high unemployment, high gasoline prices, huge deficits, a government that’s failing, big dangers in the international world—I see no reason for us to say, well California can’t be competitive [in the general election].
In addition, Newt criticized America’s 9th circuit court for attacking America’s fundamental religious underpinnings, such as the notion that America is “One Nation Under God,” and railed against “President Obama’s war on the Catholic Church,” to a thundering applause. He also went after the Los Angeles Unified School District for “Caring more about protecting bad teachers, than teaching students.” With these talking points Newt was very effective.
But Newt’s problem has never been speaking to conservatives about hard policy. He does that better than anyone. His problem is when he acts desperate and petty, whether it’s calling Romney “anti-immigrant” or attacking the former Governor’s business record from the left. In doing this, Newt has turned off a lot of primary voters, as the polls indicate, and as some attendees told me last night.
There is no denying that, once again, Newt has a very difficult uphill battle ahead. One of his problems is that up until this point, Newt has been very amicable with Santorum. He has viewed the former Pennsylvania Senator as harmless, while viciously attacking Romney. As such, Newt framed the narrative as a race between himself, the real conservative, and Romney, the moderate; relegating Santorum to the role of gadfly.
But now, with Santorum’s recent Newt-esque meteoric rise, the question is: how is Newt going to separate himself from Santorum? With his recent string of victories and his impressive second place showing in the CPAC straw poll, Santorum has become in many people’s view the conservative alternative to Romney. Does Newt really think he has a shot at winning, or is he just playing the role of spoiler?
Last night, Newt repeated that he would continue fighting up until the convention.