Gallup reports a new poll using a somewhat misleading headline; "With Huckabee Out, No Clear GOP Front-Runner." The reason I say this is somewhat misleading is because there wasn't a clear frontrunner with Huckabee in. The GOP field this year is a mix of no-names, frootloops, and finger-in-the-wind flip-floppers. The Gingrich campaign is (perhaps prematurely) already being declared dead in the water, a victim of the candidate's mouth. Anyone who remembers Newt's days as speakers won't be surprised -- he was always one to speak before thinking, assuming that every random thought was brilliant and worthy of great attention. His current situation must seem very familiar to him.
What we do see in the Gallup poll is a sort of split between the more pragmatic primary voters who recognize their candidate has to win a general election and the true-believers, the 'baggers, and the talk radio-informed who demand nothing short of wingnut purity. In that poll, leading the pack -- albeit barely leading -- are Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. That would be the same Sarah Palin who recent polling shows would lose even to Dennis Kucinich (a "rout," in the pollster's words) in the general election. In short, be prepared for a lot of "who's the soul of the Republican Party?" articles, because the answer to that question isn't extremely clear.
And Newt's reportedly washed-up campaign? Scoring third right now.
Gallup's methodology was pretty straightforward: set up a sample "trial heat" primary ballot and see who wins. Mitt Romney gets 20%, Palin gets 18%, Gingrich gets 11% and the numbers start going single-digit after that. But there's some bad news for Palin here. Gallup also tracked enthusiasm, giving each candidate a "positive intensity score." Palin's 16 beats Romney's 14, but the highest scores are going to guaranteed losers Herman Cain (24) and Michele Bachmann (21). As a side note, Ron Paul's famously cultish following is a lot less cultish this year. He scores an 11.
Will enthusiasm make the difference? I doubt it. Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann will split the nutjobs, with any remainder going to Sarah Palin. The pragmatists, who just want to win, will back whichever candidate is perceived to be the most likely to beat President Obama. Right now, Mitt Romney seems to be their Jon Kerry -- the smart, serious, "electable" one.
But the problem for Republicans is the nutjobs. The pragmatists' candidate will be savaged by the 'baggers for having signed a bill virtually identical to the hated "Obamacare" into law. A relatively moderate Republican who's veered far to the right to get elected (one of the finger-in-the-wind flip-floppers, I mentioned earlier), Mitt will never pass the Tea Party purity test. The teabaggers, more interested in producing an ideologue than a winner, will do everything they can to tear the pragmatists' candidate down.
And there's were the Republican strategy of the last few decades fails them. There's a huge, rightwing noise machine out there that's gotten completely away from the people who fired it up. Talk radio, blogs, Fox News all create an insular alternate reality without any meaningful concern for truth. For people who rely on this for information, there is no truth -- everything is merely a matter of opinion. Polling means nothing to them, because polls are dismissed by hosts who tell them you can get a poll to say whatever you want. Science is meaningless to them, because they've become convinced that it's all a racket to rake in that sweet, sweet grant money. Even history means nothing, because you can cherrypick quotations to show that historical figures believed anything you want them to believe. Economists, mathematicians, evolutionary biologists -- all are dismissed out of hand by such minds of towering ignorance as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck. The "if we elect Sarah Palin/Herman Cain/Michele Bachmann, we're going to lose!" argument will gain no traction with them, because they've convinced themselves they're the mainstream -- despite being far, far outside it. Remember, facts don't matter because facts don't exists. Opinions matter and opinions are facts.
The nutjobs, the teabaggers, the wingnuts -- all are creations of the GOP. And all will conspire against the Republican candidate most likely to win.