It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Since I last posted my blog, we've been in St. John's
Newfoundland (again) and are now in Edmonton. The Republican primaries have been delighting political fanatics - such as yours truly. First, with the 'never-say-die' campaign of Rick Santorum (who was declared the Iowa caucuses winner, only two primaries later). Then the irrepressible Newt Gingrich who routed Mitt Romney in South Carolina. It seems that just as Romney appears close to becoming the inevitable nominee, it's snatched back from him, as Republican voters still can't get entirely comfortable with him. So, what lessons can be learned from all this, going forward in the run for the Presidency?
Lessons from Newt's South Carolina Victory
1. When in personal trouble, attack the 'elite media'. ABC News timed its 'exposé' with his second ex-wife, for maximum impact. Everyone who tuned into the debate waiting with baited breath to see him squirm weren't counting on Newt's debate strategy which was to eviscerate CNN's John King for daring to make it his first question, and was able to position the whole thing as the "elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans". Regardless of what one thinks of Newt, it was an incredibly powerful performance which elicited a standing ovation from an apparently deeply Christian, conservative audience who will forgive sin before they forgive the media elites.
2. Romney's delay in releasing his tax returns has increasingly become his Achilles heel, raising questions and rumors about whether or not he has paid his fare share. It makes the narrative about Romney being out of touch with ordinary Americans even more believable. He had previously said he would release his returns in April, but this is clearly not tenable. His surprisingly shaky debate performance combined with his flippant answer ("maybe") to John King's question about why he won't release his tax returns as his father [Gov. George Romney] had done, made him look uncaring about the importance of the issue. The question now is, will he try to get through Florida's Jan. 31st primary before releasing them? If he delays further, he risks losing Florida, and then his campaign will be in serious trouble.
3. Rick Perry's dropping out of the race, throwing his support (what was left of it) to Gingrich at first appeared like it was Perry jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but it served to give hard-core Conservatives a stronger reason to bet on Gingrich, in spite of the marital infidelity story.
4. Santorum can't be totally counted out yet. He finished in decent shape with a respectable third place showing, and if the vitriol between Gingrich and Romney ramps up any hotter, primary voters might turn to him as their second choice. Although he's a total longshot, crazier things have already happened in this primary season.
Sidebar - Canadian Content
As a sidebar, Newt Gingrich somewhat over-the-top slamming of Obama turning down the Keystone pipeline project added Canadian content to the debate. His description of Stephen Harper ("a Conservative, pro-American Prime Minister") turning away from the American oil market and towards China as a result of the President's giving a thumbs-down to the Keystone project, wasn't exactly accurate but all's fair in primary season, right? [However, the Prime Minister's casting of the Gateway pipeline struggle as 'environmental radicals and Hollywood celebrities vs. Canada's economic future' was a definite take-away from the Keystone experience. Last week I did a coast-to-coast radio tour on CBC discussing it in strategic communications terms.
Although it's still a long way away, and still somewhat hallucinatory to contemplate, President Newt Gingrich, is actually not completely impossible!
Until next time.....