Night of the Living Newt

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  December 15, 2011

As Carney explained it to me in April, backstage at Gingrich's first NHIOP event, Gingrich has "the most straightforward . . . roadmap to victory." Thanks to his long history and constant exposure, he has the ability to do well in Republican contests everywhere in the country. Other candidates, unknown outside their regions, would rise, Carney predicted, but would ultimately fall away without the combination of fundraising, name recognition, and perceived gravitas among Republicans.

Supporters of those various candidates would then go looking for a second choice and give Gingrich a look — in formats where he excels, such as speaking to small groups, and in televised debates.

Plus, Carney argued, the new lay of the land has reduced the importance of the establishment gatekeepers. Gingrich has his own database of adherents to market to directly.

"You don't need to have the town chairman to reach out to right-of-center voters," Carney said.

And, according to some people who know Gingrich (who asked not to be named discussing the campaign), the antics that drove Carney and others from his team weren't necessarily lack of discipline. They stemmed from Gingrich's belief that a long, traditional campaign is simply unnecessary in today's conservative marketplace.

There are still skeptics, however, who suggest that Gingrich has adopted this untraditional strategy because he has no interest in actually winning the election. This is merely a brand-building exercise, they say, at a time when he had been overshadowed by newer, Tea Party–connected figures, and turned against by many conservatives for certain positions and endorsements they didn't like.

Gingrich has simply been lucky enough to still be around to enjoy a late surge, the skeptics argue, after conservatives ran through the entire list of other options.

Maybe so. Regardless, it may be a win-win situation for him now. He and Romney will do pitched battle; Gingrich will either win the nomination, or go down as the conservative's standard-bearer against Romney, the moderate, flip-flopping RINO.

That's a position Gingrich could only have hoped for eight months ago — and that few others would have believed possible.

To read the Talking Politics blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com. Follow him on Twitter @dbernstein.

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