The weeks from mid-November have not been very good for Mitt Romney. After seeing the latest non-Romney candidate Herman Cain (remember him?) begin to implode and the media resurrect Newt Gingrich, Romney saw his front runner status once again challenged. As his standing in the polls began to look shaky to the skyrocketing Gingrich, he caught flak for a testy interview with Fox News’ Brett Baier. Almost daily there were endless stories, theories and prognostications about the impending demise of the Romney campaign.
All the negativity seemed to reach its zenith during the Saturday December 12th debate in Iowa, when Romney challenged Gov. Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet over what Romney said or wrote about using his Massachusetts Health Care plan as a national model. Of course Perry flinched and declined the bet, but the damage to Romney was apparently already done.
DNC Operatives tweeted snarky political talking points insisting Romney was an out of touch elitist with no connection to the common man. How else could someone so carelessly toss around a number which represents about 20% of Iowa caucus goers annual income? The story was all over the news Sunday and Monday.
But then something happened….
Tuesday, Romney got up off the mat, brushed off his suit, combed his hair and got back into the fight. He called on Gingrich to return his $1.6 million payout from scandal plagued mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in an interview with Fox’s Brian Kilmeade.
Gingrich’s reckless response ended up handing Romney a political gift and an opening to contrast himself against the former Speaker. Newt castigated Romney over his years at Bain Capital in a way that would have made Saul Alinsky and couch companion Nancy Pelosi proud. Gingrich assaulted Romney (and Capitalism) by calling for Romney to return the millions he earned “bankrupting companies” and killing jobs.
Romney would later use the issue in the Thursday debate to provide a preview of how he would handle a similar attack by President Obama (whom Newt apparently called to get his talking points) and defended himself and Capitalism, quite adroitly in the process.
The Conservative Media, led by Brit Hume, Charles Krauthammer and George Will let loose on Newt with both barrels and sent him reeling. Newt ultimately tried to back away, “apologizing” for the remarks on the Thursday night Sean Hannity show. (With all the apologizing and retractions Gingrich issues, one has to think he might have to give TWO State of the Union addresses each year if elected President. One to report out to the nation and another the following night to retract and clarify his remarks.)
Polling numbers began to show disturbing trends for Gingrich. Not only would he fare poorly against President Obama, but his GOP national numbers began tanking as well. Gallup’s daily tracking showed a 12 point decline over 8 days.
Iowa polls showed a tightening race, with Gingrich in a three way tie with Ron Paul and Romney or losing outright to Romney.
The National Review published a scathing anti-Newt non-endorsement.
During the first half of Fox News’ Iowa debate Thursday night, everyone BUT Romney pummeled Gingrich over his conservative bona fides and his Fannie/Freddie connections.
Romney put in one of, if not, his best debate performances of the campaign, emerging unscathed and with renewed vigor and confidence.
Friday saw Romney received the enthusiastic endorsement of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, before they both set about campaigning in the important early voting primary state.
So what changed this week?
Perhaps the media overplayed their hand, which they often do, in painting things sooooo bleak for the Romney campaign
Perhaps Romney’s performance in the Saturday Iowa debate was not perceived to be as bad as spun, by the people who watched it.
Perhaps most regular folks “got” the bet Romney was making, was to flush out a lying varmint.
Perhaps most people understand in business there are indeed winners and losers, but more often than not, in capable hands, there are more winners.
Perhaps people realize they don’t want a “bomb thrower” leading them here, hither and yon, because of uncontrollable bombast.
Perhaps despite months of heavy shelling from both Talk Radio (Rush & Levin) and the DNC artillery, the Romney phalanx of 20-25% voter support is actually a sturdy floor and not a ceiling. After all, all challengers to Romney have fallen back to high single or low double digits after being vetted, while Romney has weathered his storms with his support virtually intact.
Whatever the reason, there seems to have been a shift not only in the tone but the momentum of the race. The Gingrich campaign seems a little more deflated and defensive and on the same course of other high flying non-Romney candidates. Talk Radio a little more desperate and peevish about the durability, tenacity and renewed inevitability of the Romney nomination. All while the Romney campaign ship seems to have righted its course and has a strong wind back in its sails.
Can you feel it?
UPDATE from Rebel Ross: The Romney campaign has released this ad called Momentum which lets us know they can feel it.
UPDATE 2 from Jayde: VIDEO CBS Evening News report (Dec 17, 2011): Romney makes South Carolina campaign push