Former Speaker Gingrich was dismissed as a serious potential nominee last summer when political strategists and operatives left his campaign and with it a large debt. It appeared Gingrich would be forced out of the race early however; Gingrich launched a low-key strategy of maximising his resources to keep his ailing campaign going until he could make an impact during the many presidential debates. The debates have changed the electoral picture significantly, in a nation where leadership, ideas and willingness for bi-partisan co-operation seemed all but lost. Gingrich the often ridiculed professor like character, suddenly burst through the efforts of the mainstream media and began sounding like the presidential voice American’s and others have been crying out for. Gingrich not only could answer the questions substantively, he apologised where he made poor decisions in the past, offered creative and visionary solutions to many of the problems America faces and stuck to Ronald Reagan 11th Commandment of not attacking another Republican.
Romney and his team have been preparing for this presidential run for six years. Romney has been polished, smart, and professional, styled himself as the business candidate who could save the economy. He was able to look Commander in Chief like when compared to Herman Cain. He appeared practical and focused on foreign affairs when compared to Ron Paul’s stance on Iran and even when pressed into a clash by Perry, was able to remain composed and calm.
Romney and his team didn’t expect the near perfect rise of former Speaker Gingrich five weeks away from the first primary and caucus race. A Rasmussen Poll released today shows if the election were held today, Gingrich would receive 38% of the vote and Romney now a distant second on 17%.
Gingrich’s rise is due to his ability to cover a range of topics and invoke the patriotic passion and American spirit within the American people. Gingrich didn’t just rely on beating President Obama on his record like Romney, he is selling a vision, a future and able to say to voters, ”Here is what the country looks like after three year of an Obama presidency, can you afford four more?”.
Gingrich rhetorically uses specific examples, as he uncovers the Obama presidency then says, this is what I will do on jobs, education, national security & controversially, immigration. The trick Gingrich has cleverly used when selling himself, is on the notion that while he has a clear vision for America’s future, he is prepared to listen to anybody and above all, he talks about getting both political parties to work together again. He passionately believes the mantra of American togetherness is essential in rebuilding the nation and its fortunes.
Team Romney knows they cannot dismiss Gingrich’s rise like the previous pretenders. Gingrich has vast political and private sector experience; he has an exceptional mind and brilliant ability to offer three of four ideas on an issue, where others struggle to provide one. Team Romney know the stakes are higher then ever before with only five weeks to go before caucuses and faced with a challenger who poses their most substantial and credible threat to a Romney nomination victory.
How will Romney and his campaign team respond? It is already evident; they intend to launch a strong, robust and sustained attack that labels Gingrich as a Washington insider and serial flip-flopper who can’t be trusted. The big strategic question however remains; will Romney engage Gingrich through political advertisements or in the remaining debates?
It is an extremely tricky position Team Romney find themselves in. Any attack against Gingrich could rebound and hurt Romney among GOP supporters and only help to solidify Gingrich’s support more. It is likely they view the Gingrich threat as one which they’ll have to execute steadily and cautiously, by initially focussing on the Romney’s strengths personally and professionally such as his stable family and long marriage, his private sector experience on a whole, indirectly highlighting Gingrich’s Washington ties and former personal flaws.
If Gingrich is still in the lead two weeks away from Iowa, then expect a change in tactics and an all out attack campaign from Team Romney. Gingrich will not be like other challengers, if Romney’s team engage and attack him directly, Gingrich is very capable of putting it into perspective and force attention back on Romney. The late Gingrich challenge appears to have also unsettled Romney personally, he appeared annoyed and angered when questioned on the healthcare issue by an interviewer this week. Romney needs to ensure he doesn’t adopt a prickly personality which could bring on a media tsunami of close scrutiny and pressure at the very time he doesn’t need negative attention.
My own advice to Romney and his campaign team is to remove the protective shackles from and let him demonstrate some real passion and determination to win. Romney needs to convince voters why he would make a great president but more importantly, how much he wants it. Removing some of the protectionism which has surrounded Romney up to now, may in fact be the best strategy of all, to beat Gingrich. To challenge or attack Gingrich directly is a political tight rope for any GOP candidate with the potential for supporter backlash or abandonment.
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