MADNESS, MADNESS, I CALL IT MADNESS
Kevin Drum thinks sanity might prevail in the GOP (though he's starting to have doubts):
So let's suppose that Herman Cain pulls out of the presidential race....
The evidence suggests that Cain's supporters will break to Gingrich by about a 2:1 margin, which would put Gingrich ahead of Romney by roughly 34% to 26%. Is that game over for Romney?
Maybe, but not so fast. At that point, the race finally fulfills its manifest destiny: it becomes the crazies vs. the non-crazies. And then the question is who the 15% of undecided voters are going to break for. My guess: about 2:1 for Romney, which puts them in roughly a dead heat again.
What happens then? My belief all along has been that the non-crazies still outnumber the crazies among the Republican rank and file. Not by a lot, maybe, but by enough. And the non-crazies will carry the day for Romney. However, Intrade suggests this is rapidly becoming a bad bet....
I think he's off base here, in several ways. First of all, I don't think non-crazies really do outnumber the crazies in the GOP rank and file -- not anymore. And a large percentage of the non-crazy remnant is already on Romney's side.
Beyond that, there's the fact that a lot of Republicans don't think Gingrich is crazy. I'm not just talking about the ones who watch Fox all the time, and believe a lot of things that you and I know are crazy -- Obama's a socialist, Bill Ayers and ACORN run the country, and so on. I'm talking about the ones who sometimes switch to NBC and ABC and CBS and CNN -- where they've seen Gingrich being taken very, very seriously for years and years.
Now, a lot of things can undermine Gingrich -- his foot-in-mouth tendencies, a few not-quite-far-right positions he's held in the past, his joke of a campaign organization, the desire of the GOP establishment and pragmatic zillionaires to get this over with (via fair or foul means) and hold the damn Romney coronation already. But if Kevin's waiting for sane Republican voters to break late for Romney, he may be waiting in vain.
Meanwhile, I think Paul Waldman has hit on an important difference between Romney and Gingrich -- or, at least, between their styles of flip-flopping:
Mitt Romney flip-flops carefully, after a period of calculation in which he determines the most appropriate strategic positioning required to achieve his short- and long-term goals. Newt Gingrich flip-flops impulsively, taking positions that sound good at a particular moment without any apparent regard for the past or the future....
Whenever Romney is asked to explain a flip-flop, he always has an answer, and it's the same one he'll give if he gets asked about it tomorrow or next month. It may not be entirely convincing, but you can tell he thought about it, worked through it with his advisors, and is offering the best explanation they could come up with. The explanations are crafted so that they account for whatever he has said in the past and what he intends to say in the future.
Gingrich, on the other hand, has flip-flops that swing wildly from one extreme to another. His natural rhetorical style is one of extremity, in which good things are "profound," "transformative," and "fundamental," while bad things are not just bad but horrific, the worst things that have ever happened. That means that when he embraces a position, it's the greatest thing ever, and when he rejects a position, it's the worst thing ever, even if what today is the worst thing ever was the greatest thing ever yesterday.... When questioned about a flip-flop, he's clever enough to find a vaguely reasonable-sounding answer -- made more convincing by the fact that he says everything with the same emphatic certainty -- but he'll probably give a completely different answer if you ask him tomorrow.
I think it's that emphatic-certainty thing that explains Gingrich's surge. The core narrative that unites the modern right is this: true right-wingers are always right about everything, and are agents of God as a result, while everyone else is evil and satanic, and everything in politics is a battle between pure good and the Apocalypse. Gingrich embodies that worldview. That worldview isn't based on actual principles -- Ronald Reagan could be a non-churchgoing, divorced, tax-raising, Iran-coddling Russki-befriender, but he proclaimed fealty to conservatism at the top of his lungs, so he was the conservative's conservative. Newt is like that, too. And Romney isn't -- he's pretty good at angrily proclaiming that it's evil to believe something he himself used to believe, but he's not as good as Newt. Newt actually seems to believe his own principles haven't changed. He's convincing. With Romney, you see the calculation, the flop sweat. So no wonder he can't close the sale.