Guest Column: Newt, Mitt will slug it out


Photo:Emily Harmon/Iowa State Daily

Newt Gingrich, 2012 presidential candidate, speaks at Iowa State on Friday, Sept. 30, in the Campanile Room of the Memorial Union, emphasizing Iowa State’s reputation for science and technology. Gingrich’s presence was part of the Presidential Caucus Series.  

Steffen Schmidt

Newt Gingrich said at the Republican debate on foreign policy in Washington, D.C., “I’m prepared to take the heat to say let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving [illegal immigrants] citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”

Michele Bachmann fired back a couple of days later that Gingrich is the most liberal of the 2012 field of GOP presidential candidates. Newt is denying that he favors “amnesty” for illegals. He said it’s just an effort to make legal the status of illegal folks who have been in the United States for 25 years and so forth.

That’s going to make it mighty hard for Iowa’s GOP presidential “screeners” Bob Vander Plaats, Rep. Steve King and others to endorse Newt. Although illegal immigration and border security have been less visible than jobs and gay marriage they are nonetheless part of the litmus test candidates must pass in the Republican presidential marathon in the Hawkeye State.

What’s up with Newt?!

I’ve figured out what Gingrich is doing.

He is playing a fake to the center in order to influence independents and moderate Republicans. In the next poll he hopes that he, not Mitt Romney, will be “the candidate most likely to beat Barak Obama.” The independents are less hard-core on deportation of illegal immigrants than GOP faithful. That may then change the dynamic in other states including New Hampshire. If Newt comes in second there and does win in South Carolina and Texas, the “Macro” game will change and Romney would look much less attractive as the go-to guy to beat Obama.

The “Mitt Romney factor” is still hovering like a bad anvil cloud over the event. Potential for storms and tornadoes in that one for sure.

What’s puzzling to me is that as Romney continues his painful slog, the GOP base seems to be doing everything except swing in his direction.

An old hand at New Hampshire politics told me in Manchester a couple of days ago that when Mitt nails the Granite State primary “the rest of the pack will fall in line, even the Tea Partiers, you mark my word.” There was not much of a sign in the parts of New Hampshire I scrutinized of the other candidates except some road-side intersection yard signs for Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry.

I assume that most Republicans will vote for the party nominee, except that important, probably crucial, slice of Americans of any party persuasion who really do find the Mormon religion unacceptable.

When the Pew Center asked Americans about Islam and Mormonism, the results were interesting. Asked if the Mormon religion is different from their own, 62 percent of Americans said it was, and 70 percent said the same about Islam. When asked if they have a favorable opinion of Mormonism, 53 percent said favorable and 27 percent said unfavorable. Asked to name one word that expressed an unfavorable opinion of Mormonism, “cult,” “bigamy” and “polygamy” were the three most common ones. The positive terms mentioned were “family” or “family values,” “devout,” “good” and “faith.”

Among white evangelicals who attend services at least weekly, 52 percent believe that the Mormon religion is not Christian. This could be an important factor in the Iowa caucuses and among faith-based Republicans throughout the United States.

Michael Gerson, citing a recent Gallup Poll, wrote in the Washington Post (Who’s afraid of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism?), “20 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Protestants tell Gallup they would not support a Mormon for president. A portion of conservative Christianity is unhinged in its condemnation, regarding Mormonism as a dangerous, secretive cult. Even without recourse to calumny, it is clear that evangelicals will not be reconciled to Mormon doctrines without ceasing to be evangelicals.”

So, Newt Gingrich has pulled up or ahead of the others in Iowa. Mitt Romney is still No. 2, steady in the polls at 20-some percent, and pushing hard to mobilize his organization in Iowa. Newt hopes to leap ahead nationally as the most likely to beat Obama. Romney has a significant percentage deficit among church-going, conservative, Christian Republicans even though he’s still the most likely to beat the incumbent president.

Clearly the Iowa caucus night and the New Hampshire primary promise to be nail-biters this year.