HolyCoast: Will Voters Vote For the Guy They Don't Like But Has the Right Ideas, or The Guy They Like Who's Been a Disappointment?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Will Voters Vote For the Guy They Don't Like But Has the Right Ideas, or The Guy They Like Who's Been a Disappointment?

Jim Geraghty has some thoughts on the favorability factor and the tough road it makes for Newt in the general election:

Sunday night, the Ace of Spades concluded:

Romney was never my guy, but since the party has refused to back any plausible candidate, it's Romney by default. . . . Newt's selling spleen. Trouble is, I have plenty of spleen already. What I need is a guy who can follow-through and do things. What does Gingrich have apart from not being Romney? He has all of the ideological deviancy without any of the financial skill and drive.

Later, he twists the knife a bit: "For all of the new Newt Recruits: There was a reason you considered him unelectable for the first eight months of his campaign."

On Friday afternoon, the Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll offered a data point that every Republican primary voter can and should consider.

Here are the most recent favorability results I could find for Obama, Romney, and Newt. 

Fox News, 1/12-1/14
Obama, fav/unfav, 51%/46%, +5
Romney, fav/unfav, 45%/38%, +7
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 27%/56%, -29 

CBS/NYT, 1/12-1/17:

Obama, fav/unfav, 38%/45%, -7
Romney, fav/unfav, 21%/35%, -14
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 17%/49%, -32 

PPP, 1/13-1/17:

Obama, app/dis, 47%/50%, -3
Romney, fav/unfav, 35%/53%, -18
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 26%/60%, -34

America does not love Romney, but boy do they hate Newt.

Now, favorability numbers can change. Some flight between South Carolina and Florida could suddenly have all the engines fail, and Newt could race to the cockpit and successfully land the plane on the water the way Captain Sullenberger did for U.S. Airways Flight 1549. But barring some dramatic new bit of information, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Newt Gingrich would head into the general election as an extraordinarily disliked man.

Now, Newt fans can argue A) somehow between now and Election Day, the country will look at a guy who's been in the national spotlight on and off since 1994 and suddenly find him exponentially more likeable than they do nowwhile the Obama campaign is running an expensive negative campaign against him or B) a majority in enough states to win 270 electoral votes will decide that in light of the state of the country, likeability doesn't matter all that much, and that they will happily vote for the guy they dislike because he will do a better job as president.

Good luck with either of those scenarios. Some of those folks feeling unfavorably about Newt Gingrich may not like him because of his marital troubles; some may not like him because they bought into the Time magazine cover of him as Ebenezer Scrooge; some simply may not like him because of his appearance or some other fairly shallow reason. But I suspect those views are visceral and deeply felt, and sadly, you cannot logically argue a person out of a position that he did not logically argue himself into.

On Election Night, Gingrich repeated his pledge that, if nominated, he would propose seven three-hour Lincoln-Douglas-style debates with President Obama. If Gingrich and Obama were to debate, I could easily envision Gingrich tearing apart Obama's tissue-thin record, bringing up a dozen Obama missteps that the incumbent and MSM would prefer to ignore, and the president retreating into ever vaguer platitudes and generalities. And I could also see those same debates ending with Obama leading by an even wider margin because so many non-Republican voters found Gingrich smug, hectoring, condescending, snide, and disrespectful. Style matters, and you don't go into an election with the electorate you wished you had, you go into an election with the electorate you have.

With Newt as the nominee, the Republican message to swing voters is, "Vote for the guy you detest to replace the president whom you still like but who has disappointed you." That's not an impossible sales pitch, but it is an extraordinarily difficult one.
I know a lot of Republicans are counting on Newt obliterating Obama in debates to turn the tide, but it's dangerous to put all your eggs in that basket. For one thing, if Newt is the nominee I doubt there will be more than one debate. Technically Obama doesn't have to agree to any debates, but that would be universally seen as political cowardice. So my guess is he'll agree to one only and waive off any others claiming he's too busy (while he continues to do several fundraisers a week and get in the usual rounds of golf). That means Newt has one chance to make an impact, and even Obama can be prepared well enough to have one good night.

And if Newt comes off as a guy with an anger problem (that's how my wife views him) and he tries to bully Obama, that will blow up and Obama will get the sympathy vote from all those who are led by their feelings (and there are lots of those people).

Newt's gonna have to have more going for him than debate expectations.

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