Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy. It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.
Upsetting both conventional wisdom and the party establishment’s preferred narrative, New Gingrich’s big win in South Carolina’s Republican primary last weekend has dramatically energized the GOP race. While it suddenly feels like a two-man fight between Gingrich and the previously presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, in truth, the party’s three main wings (country-club moderates, Reaganites, and the farthest-right social conservatives and libertarians) remain deeply divided, suggesting a lengthy and drawn-out battle across the remaining GOP primaries. Taking that as our starting-point assumption, Wikistrat polled its global network of strategists for scenarios as to how this might unfold and what it could mean for the November general election.
1) True bell-weather Florida delivers a quick knockout next Tuesday
All the primaries so far have been predictably weird: sanctimonious Iowa narrowly going for Rick Santorum, independent New Hampshire favoring favorite son Romney, and the forever insurgent South Carolina jump-starting Gingrich. None of these states carry the representative cross-section of electoral pillar Florida, where the crucial Hispanic vote will be felt most clearly for the first time. Since all sides know it’s a real race now, the four remaining candidates (Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Ron Paul) are all placing maximum bets on the Sunshine State and its notoriously volatile electorate. If Newt wins, the party establishment will be sorely tempted to dump Romney and talk of a late entrant will once again spike. But if Romney can pull it off, he’ll snuff out the last serious threat to his preferred storyline.
2) The Super PACs guarantee a record-breaking money war
Billionaire political activist Sheldon Adelson has single-handedly intervened, through the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future, to deny Romney the wins in Iowa and South Carolina that would have made him unstoppable. Undeterred, the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future is pumping out millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads against Gingrich. Still largely on the sidelines but promising the “mother of all wars” is the super-sized Super PAC Americans for Prosperity, bankrolled by oil billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who likely are holding their massed firepower for the general election. Naturally, President Obama will attract similar big-money support from Democratic ranks. The ironic bottom line in an election so far dominated by bottom-up populist rage? The “one percent” are determining the race’s dynamics to a stunning degree.
3) This is 1992, with Gingrich playing the Slick Willie role
On the face of it, President Obama should be safe enough, based on his successful “war record” (killing Bin Laden, ending Iraq, dialing down Afghanistan, “pivoting” against China), but the economy is dragging him down just like it did George H.W. Bush, another incumbent derided for being too “cool” about average voters’ pocketbook pain. Similarly Gingrich, with his sordid marital past, should sink from all the mud that’s been successfully tossed his way, and yet, his I-feel-your-anger seems to coat his campaign with Teflon. For now, the only thing missing in this equation is a Ross Perot to dog the incumbent. Unfortunately for the GOP, this time around that guy is probably named Ron Paul.
4) This is 1968 and Newt is the second coming of Tricky Dick
This one is too good to pass up, primarily because back then there was another Romney, Mitt’s dad George, who made an early bright impression with some establishment backing. But by February the perceived Vietnam war “dove” Romney was gone and Richard Nixon surged to the nomination. Then, despite his enormous baggage and plenty of public antipathy (ring a bell?), Nixon was able to capture the White House in a nasty fight against the Dems’ good-guy Hubert Humphrey, who was simply too nice to get down and dirty. But one difference sticks out: Nixon’s past electoral humiliations made him a truly disciplined candidate, a trait Newt Gingrich has never displayed.
5) America’s erratic populism demands an erratic demagogue
Newt’s surge in open-primary South Carolina, after the GOP’s brief flirtation with mad-as-hell Herman Cain, indicates that the electorate is still shopping for its anti-incumbent champion. President Obama acknowledged as much in his State of the Union speech by pushing the theme of inequality. But because “no drama” Obama can never hope to tap into that widespread rage, and because Romney’s Wall Street past makes him the “Bain” of that voting segment, the bombastically loquacious Gingrich naturally steps into the spotlight. As the Civil War history buff Newt might put it, “the man and the hour have met.”
6) But Newt’s victimization narrative will only take him so far
Gingrich is plowing the same fertile ground that Sarah Palin covered in 2008. Yes, it fires up the faithful and establishes your Reagan cred, and there’s no doubt that the media eats it up. But it’s a fire that eventually consumes the candidate by making him or her seem somehow unfit for the highest of offices. That kind of crazy angry befits a brief fling – not a four-year marriage. Plus, casting the GOP as the party of victims is unconvincing. Because Newt can dig his own grave with his tongue faster than anybody, his inevitable flame-out will leave the Republicans a scarred, weakened party, with default nominee Romney as the worst possible vessel for the well-established populist line. This is the nightmare scenario that Wall Street Journal editors fear.
7) So the “organization man” will win in the end
Romney has the national infrastructure in place. Gingrich does not. Yes, Gingrich’s angry insurgent style may allow him to bully his way onto some state primary ballots, but that will only alienate party stalwarts all the more, for while Romney piles up congressional endorsements, the former Speaker has trouble coming up with a dozen, indicating that his past scorched-earth tactics haunt him still. When it’s all said and done, this long and bitter struggle will empower and improve Mitt Romney, just like Hillary Clinton did for the too-vague and too-cool Barack Obama in 2008.
8) With camp divisions fixed, the Veep choice is a king-making function
South Carolina was more revealing than we give it credit for, suggesting a reasonably even split between moderates, core conservatives and the far-right. Neither Romney nor Gingrich can capture the Santorum/Paul vote, meaning one of them may be desperate enough to dangle the vice-presidential slot. With Pennsylvania a key swing state, that might just make – gasp! – Rick Santorum golden.
9) If all else fails, broker the convention
If that last bit struck you as too far “out there,” then we could be looking at a Republican version of the Dems’ 1968 convention – replete with an “Occupy Whatever” maelstrom raging outside. No candidate enters the hall with enough delegates, so, to avoid the embarrassment of ballot after ballot, a deal is struck to draft a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, with the technocratic Mitch Daniels as the natural Veep.
And that’s when the Koch Brothers enter stage (far) right . . ..
That’s our “wisdom from the crowd” for this week.
Now give us your preferred scenario in the comments section below. And be sure to check out more at Wikistrat.com, a cutting-edge global consultancy.