In the Arena

14 Days Till Iowa: Newt Crushed

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Jeff Haynes / Reuters

Newt Gingrich talks to an 8-year-old boy at a town hall meeting in Hiawatha, Iowa, December 19, 2011.

Hiawatha, Iowa

“I was chatting with some young people on my way to the podium,” Newt Gingrich told about 100 people at a rally near Cedar Rapids last night, “and it was clear how our campaign differs from the other campaigns with all the negative ads. A 7-year-old named Ty asked me what my favorite iPad app was…I think Ty’s probably smarter than most political consultants…It’s saddening, the weight of the totally negative campaigns…This campaign should be all about kids like Ty and their future. And so if you see one of these candidates who are putting all these negative ads on the air, ask them to take it all off…The only person it is helping is Barack Obama.”

If you ever wondered about the impact of negative advertising, just take a look at the difference between Gingrich’s standings in the national polls and in Iowa.

(PHOTOS: Newt Gingrich’s Life in Pictures)

He’s running neck and neck with Romney in two national polls released yesterday: tied at 28 in the CNN poll, tied at 30 in Washington Post/ABC news sample. But he has totally collapsed in Iowa–down to the mid-teens after his feverish ascent to the mid-30s…was it only last week? In one poll, he’s even running behind Rick Perry. The difference is that Iowa has been bombarded with anti-Gingrich advertising. The ads have been brilliantly effective.

And Newt has made an interesting decision: He doesn’t have the money to respond to Romney, Paul and Perry–the sources of the negative ads–and so he’s taken the high road. His other option would have been to open up on his opponents with half-crazed Gingrichian hyperbole–the sort that he’s lavishing on “Saul Alinsky radical” Barack Obama. The problem is, that would have only reinforced his image as a nasty pol, dragging down the others while leaving him in tatters. Instead, he’s cleaved to the 11th Amendment, speaking ill of none of his opponents, except when “they get my goat and I slip up,” and has cleverly chosen to go extreme on issues–like the federal judiciary and the Iranian nuclear program–that will have resonance with Christian conservatives.

(READ: Newt Gingrich Falls Back to Earth)

It is too early to say whether this strategy will work. I suspect that we’ll have more twists and turns over the next few weeks, especially if Romney or Perry decide to shift their fire to Paul. But the fall and rise and fall of Newt Gingrich has been an object lesson in Republican frustration this year.

Today, if the weather cooperates–a blizzard is moving in–I’ll see four of the candidates on the stump: Gingrich, Santorum, Perry and Bachmann.

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