When GOP Presidential Candidates Skip, They Quickly Stumble

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Stephan Savoia / AP; Chris Usher / Reuters; Molly Riley / Reuters

Republicans are always standing with things. They “stand with Israel.” The “stand with” each other. They “stand with” themselves. Sarah Palin even once said America should “stand with our North Korean allies.” Suffice it to say, they got this standing thing down. If you like Ronald Reagan, lower taxes and Pat Boone, chances are you know how to stand.

But can they skip? Not as well. In fact, as Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have been showing us, skipping tends to make Republicans look bad.

Last week, Newt Gingrich skipped a bunch of potential Iowa campaign events so he could go cruise around Greece with his wife. He returned to find that his campaign leadership so angry that they staged an intervention. Gingrich would have to promise no more skipping. Gingrich argued, once again, that what others see as mistakes are actually smart moves, because his brain is so big. “I don’t know how other people work,” he told the New York Times. “To have a major breakthrough in policy, you have to be able to stop and think.” In other words, he needs to skip to think. His entire senior campaign team resigned en masse. They don’t truck with a skipper.

Next week, Jon Huntsman plans to skip the first Republican debate in New Hampshire, which is the one state that he will have to win to have a shot at winning the Republican nomination. There are about 1.3 million people who live in New Hampshire, and only about 230,000 tend to vote in Republican presidential primaries. That means Huntsman needs to get maybe 100,000 people to vote for him if he wants to be president, the very same people who are most likely to be watching Monday’s debate, when Huntsman will not be on the stage. Huntsman is already skipping the whole Iowa process, which makes the New Hampshire debate a double skip. Can Ambassador skipper still win? Mike Dennehy, the New Hampshire operative who worked for years with Huntsman’s campaign chief, says such a skip is “very serious.” “I think it shows either you’re afraid to join the others on stage for the first time or you’re unwilling to — both of which don’t give voters a lot of confidence in a candidate,” Dennehy told Politico.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, stood by and with so many things in 2008 than he pretty much skipped nothing. But now his aides have announced that he will be skipping the Ames Straw poll this time in Iowa, which Romney won in 2008 by spending much more money than everyone else, including the purchase of a small fleet of golf carts to ferry his voters a few hundred feet between his buses and the polls. This is smart politics for Romney, who is trying to leave 2008 and the debate over his social issue stances behind. But it is a bit awkward, since he spent weeks in 2007 telling voters that he would always stand with Iowa.

So it begs the question: If Romney skips when he once stood, how will anyone know he will not skip over the things he is still standing by? Maybe it doesn’t matter so much if everyone is doing it. Maybe skipping is the new standing, and with time, Republicans will look better when they do it. No doubt that’s the Gingrich theory. And if you have not heard him speak recently, I can assure you that he still thinks he is much smarter than his peers.

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