“More than a decade after he stepped down as speaker of the House into what seemed like almost certain political oblivion,” writes Shannon McCaffrey of the Associated Press, “Newt Gingrich is back and seemingly more relevant than ever.” To where has Newt Gingrich come back, and what makes him seem relevant? Shannon clarifies:
Gingrich seems to be everywhere these days, headlining an endless circuit of GOP dinners, popping up on TV news shows, authoring yet another best-selling book and acting as a policy guru to out-of-power congressional Republicans on how to do battle with the Democratic White House.
“Everywhere” means the DC dinner party circuit, on DC pundit shows, on a DC book tour and in Capitol Hill offices. Everywhere else is apparently nowhere. Shannon goes on to interview a series of Gingrich allies and former staffers who feel that 2012 is Newt Gingrich’s year to run for President. It’s no surprise (and it’s not even news) to find that Gingrich supporters support Gingrich. The question is, is anyone outside Gingrich’s personal circle clamoring for him to run?
Let’s look at a few indicators of support outside Gingrich’s circle. At a February meeting of CPAC, a group of conservative political activists, a presidential straw poll of those activists showed 20% endorsing Mitt Romney for President in 2012, 14% endorsing Bobby Jindal, 13% endorsing Sarah Palin, another 13% endorsing Ron Paul, and 10% endorsing Newt Gingrich. There is no recent representative poll on 2012 presidential contenders; the most recent is one from December 1-2, 2008, in which 65% of Republicans said they’d be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to support Mike Huckabee for President in 2012, 67% said they’d support Sarah Palin, 61% said they’d support Mitt Romney, 57% said they’d support Rudy Giuliani, and 52% said they’d support Newt Gingrich. That’s two fifth-place finishes.
What are people in general talking about? On Twitter, people wrote 25 tweets with the happy smiley (indicating positive opinion) about Sarah Palin last week (April 12-18). Ron Paul got 22 smiley tweets, John McCain got 7 smiley tweets, Mike Huckabee got 4 smiley tweets, and Newt Gingrich got 3 smiley tweets.
Finally, let’s move on to the highest level of commitment we’re measuring: the decision to spend money for an item with a presidential contender’s name on it. Money is tight and a t-shirt, bumper sticker or button with a candidate’s name has a permanence to it, so people looking to buy candidate merchandise presumably feel pretty darned secure in their support. The graph to the right shows the share of all GOP contender searches from week to week over the last month or so. Searches for merchandise with Newt Gingrich’s name on it are consistently at the bottom.
Newt Gingrich may be a popular figure at dinner parties, but I don’t see evidence that the American people are clamoring for him to run for President.