Monday, December 12, 2011

My Kingdom For $10,000

So, how much damage did Mitt Romney do to his presidential campaign after offering Rick Perry a $10,000 wager on his health care position?  We'll find out in the next few days after the pollsters have had a chance to wade through their data, but my sense is that it will do damage to what's left of Romney's standing as a regular guy who happens to be rich.

The damage control has already begun.

Political campaigns have turned on worse gaffes, as Perry, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain can tell you, but this one will stand out as Romney's low point. It also comes at a bad time, with voting set to commence in Iowa a day after you've returned that last questionable holiday gift.

Of course, Newt Gingrich has harvested the most media attention over the past few weeks, and this trend continued last night. This AP article described Newt as having a "steely calm" and as:

defending his most controversial stands without appearing to be the thin-skinned hothead his critics often describe.

The former House speaker seemed to accomplish that goal in Saturday's debate in Iowa. His challenge will be to sustain the strategy while rivals attack him on the airwaves and the ground, and to convince conservative voters that he's their champion despite his occasional departures from orthodoxy.

But Newt's already had to backtrack on his comment describing the Palestinians as an invented people, which will do nothing to help his foreign policy credentials. And he did a little bit of constitutional reinvention when discussing his views of the mandate that would require everyone to buy health insurance. It seems that he supported it in 1993 when he was fighting Bill and Hillary's program, but explained it this way on Saturday:

"I frankly was floundering, trying to find a way to make sure that people who could afford it were paying their hospital bills, while still leaving an out so libertarians could not buy insurance," Gingrich said. "It's now clear that the mandate, I think, is clearly unconstitutional. "

So I guess the Gingrich constitutional test has an 18 year time limit. He'll need to work on that one.

Overall, Mitt did not do poorly aside from the bet, Bachmann's reference to Newt Romney was amusing, and Ron Paul's message continues to be the most consistent of all of the candidates. It won't get him the nomination, but you can't accuse him of flip-flopping. He's my pick for second place in Iowa.

What now then? Thankfully, Donald Trump's mega-disaster debate has been exposed for what it truly is: an opportunity for him to be the star in a political game that only he can win. The GOP field will continue to try and get their messages out while the rest of America goes shopping, and President Obama will try to paint each and every one of them as against the middle class. The latest polls show Obama ahead both nationally and ahead of Gingrich specifically in the key swing states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Six months ago, it would have been madness to predict the Republican state of affairs as it exists today. Six months from now, I think that Mitt Romney will stand as the eventual nominee. I don't have $10,000 to back it up, though.

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