In the Arena

20 Days Till Iowa: The Paul Boomlet

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This is one of those days when you can feel the zeitgeist twitch–is it possible that Republicans are already cooling on Newt Gingrich? Well, yes. Newt is the ultimate political impulse buy. He’s terrific at the periphery of the Republican debate, but when he starts moving toward the middle of the stage, and getting more time, and saying more things…people begin to think: Ahhh, Newt? That smartypants? Oh, now I remember why I don’t like him!

And so we have the first, faintest twinkling of poll-fizzle–an Iowa outlier, the PPP poll, had Newt up by only 1 measly point over Ron Paul yesterday. Today, the Bachmann and Perry campaigns are leaking internal polling that has Newt stalled (if you can believe those campaigns)…and the meaningless national tracking polls have Newt stuck around 33% or so. Nothing you can really grab onto, just a feeling, a twinge, made more plausible by two other factors:

1. The anti-Newt attacks by Romney, Paul and Perry have been quite good. Granted, Gingrich is a fat target–but Romney is right to play the “zany professor” card and Freddie Mac cards. “Moon colonies” seemed a lesser line of attack during Saturday’s debate, but the more I think about it, the more it lingers and makes Gingrich seem extravagantly….weird, in a very non-Iowa way. And the fact that Gingrich took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac is a giant, sucking wound, which Romney is picking at successfully on a daily basis. (Today, the Romney campaign unearthed a clip of Gingrich saying–in his flippant, sneery way–that those who profited from Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac should pay off the mortgage lenders’ debts.)

2. The Uncomplicated Crankitude of Ron Paul. He is what he is. He neither flips nor flops. Some of his positions are incomprehensible, others are anathema to Republicans–although his peaceable foreign policy does have some resonance in Iowa, where the locals were traditionally more interested in selling corn to the commies than in nuking them. Both Romney and Gingrich are just too hard to assimilate–all those mind-bending rationalizations for mind-changes on stuff that most conservatives don’t have to think twice about, plus Romney’s Mormonism and Gingrich’s Mammonism. Paul is the ultimate feel-good parking place, an honest man and, today, the winner of the coveted Andrew Sullivan endorsement.

All these doubts add up to unease about Gingrich, and a slight Paul boomlet, which may or may not turn out to be significant. I suspect that the next zeitgeist wrinkle will be a renewed Rick Perry, still dumb but finally accessible, as he begins a 10-day Iowa road trip today in Council Bluffs.