Roger L. Simon

Florida: Why Gingrich Lost Big and What's Next

For a supposedly smart guy, Newt Gingrich made a bonehead error in Florida that not only cost him that state but almost certainly any serious chance of the Republican nomination. And in so doing, he, almost idiotically, undercut the very thing that had made his candidacy successful in the first place.

After his solid victory in South Carolina, Gingrich did not continue the obvious strategy that got him there – running against Barack Obama by presenting himself to Republican voters as the great orator and thinker who could bring down the noxious incumbent, the man who rose above internecine intra-party squabbles for the greater good of his country.

Instead, he did the exact opposite. He spent the balance of his time in Florida running against Romney when he had already beaten the former governor in South Carolina. Talk about dumb. Newt let his personal antipathy overwhelm his good sense. He played defense about the picayune and the irrelevant when he should have played offense on the philosophical and substantial.

No wonder Gingrich’s poll numbers dropped and dropped. What the Republican electorate cares about is Obama and who can beat him. Newt took his eye off the ball, wasted time and demeaned himself attacking Romney — not the least of which was an extraordinarily vicious (not to mention untrue) accusation that Romney denied kosher food to Holocaust victims.

Just ten days ago I asked the question on this site: “Will Newt Gingrich Grow Up — And Win?” Unfortunately, we got the answer sooner than we expected.

Now I know Gingrich fans (and I was one, if you read the column referenced above) are going to say that Romney played dirty first, so Newt had to. Nonsense. If that’s what Gingrich thought, he was far less smart the we give him credit for. He might be a big thinker (at least for a politician), but he’s also a thin-skinned sucker. He should have taken a breath and stayed completely on the high road, keeping whatever “vision thing” he had focused on the big rodeo in November.

If I, with no more political experience than running for junior high school president, knew something so apparent, surely Newt did. But he was unable to follow through on it, unable to keep his cool.

Gingrich lost for reasons of character, not ideas. The differences between Romney and Gingrich (even Santorum) are minuscule on that score, especially compared to the views of the current president.

So, sad to say, and despite whatever affection I have for Newt and his one-liners, the time has come to declare this race over. I for one am ready to unite behind Romney. The Battle of November is far too important to risk further bloodletting and besmirching of our candidate.

This is particularly important because, besides the obvious perquisites of incumbency, Barack Obama has huge advantages that are going to make him a truly formidable adversary. Three of them come immediately to mind.

1. Obama is a superb and dedicated campaigner. He may not like the presidency much, but he loves running for office. He’s very good at it — came out of nowhere to beat Hillary, remember — and has done it most of his adult life. You can already see his body language improving as he makes his first forays on the trail.

2. As we all know, it’s the economy, stupid. The administration with its devoted media lackeys are already doing their best to make it seem the economy is recovering — whether it is or not. Numbers will be fudged and misinterpreted. Expect these efforts to be doubled and redoubled until the public is hypnotized into believing it’s true and Obama is reelected. We must be vigilant in our analysis and opposition to this. This will take great communication skills and a concerted effort on all our parts to make the truth clear to a public that is being so constantly deluded. A united party will be a necessity — and the sooner the better.

3. Foreign policy is controlled by the president. If all else fails, if it looks as if his adversary is going to put him out of office, he can always declare war (or near war) and unite the country behind him. Would Obama do this? I can’t say for sure, but it wouldn’t even have to be deliberate. We are all prey to our unconscious on one level or another. Iran sits out there, as do other evil-doers. And it’s a long way from May to December, as the song goes. Even longer from February to November.

It may be early, but given the above — and what happened in Florida — it’s time, as we do in Hollywood, to say “It’s a wrap!” to the Republican nomination and get down to the big show. It’s more than the economy, stupid, this time. It’s our country.