One law of politics (and I use that term loosely; the laws of politics are a lot more mutable than those of, say, thermodynamics or North Dakota) is that when a presidential primary process looks essentially decided, the party establishment steps in to endorse the presumptive nominee and pressures the other candidate, or candidates, to drop out of the race. It’s never in the party’s interest to drag the contest on, particularly when it means that said presumptive nominee will continue to be subjected to more criticism from his intraparty rival or rivals.
That’s the law. In the light of the gray dawn of current polling, the only candidate who could wrap up the GOP presidential nomination early is Newt Gingrich, whom the Republican establishment almost universally despises and fears. But say Gingrich wins Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida by big margins and comes very close—or even wins—in New Hampshire. Confronted with almost any other candidate with that kind of win-loss record, prominent current and former elected and appointed officials and commentators would come forward and start saying, “This thing is over; everybody else—that means you, Mitt—out of the pool.” Confronted with Gingrich, I doubt it.
The breadth of Gingrich-phobia among influential Republicans is stunning. It includes not just the lion’s share of his former congressional colleagues, but commentators on the party’s moderate wing (Parker, Douthout, Brooks), right-wing (Rubin), and wacko-right wing (Savage, Beck). Gingrich-phobia is a trans-ideological phenomenon among Republicans. The problem isn’t what Gingrich believes, which may change at any moment, but who Gingrich is—an arrogant, pseudo-intellectual four-year-old whose outbursts could at any moment render him unelectable, even if his record doesn’t.
So say that Gingrich has a great beginning at the polls. My guess is that the rush to anoint him won’t materialize—save, perhaps, at Fox News and in Limbaugh-land. Still, the Republican right—and that means, virtually everyone who hasn’t had the good sense or decency to leave the Republican Party outright—is in no mood to follow the elite’s dictates, and the elites know, to their sorrow, what a weak reed Romney is in their fight to stop the Newtster.
These are the times that try Republican elites’ souls.