After enjoying 14- to 15-percentage-point leads over Mitt Romney in early December, Newt Gingrich is now statistically tied with Romney in national Republican preferences for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination: 26% for Gingrich vs. 24% for Romney. This follows a steady decline in support for Gingrich in the past 10 days.
I don’t think he’s done. While his numbers are falling, some decline was inevitable as people got to know him better (and found things they didn’t like), as his rivals turned their fire on him as the frontrunner (negativity came first from Paul, but Romney has picked up the attack in recent days), as his electability began to be called into question, and as the Republican elite/establishment (whatever you want to call it) began to panic over the inevitable disaster of Gingrich as the nominee, with both politicians (e.g., Pete King, Chris Christie) and pundits (e.g., Noonan, Will, Brooks, Gerson, Coulter, etc.) going on the anti-Newt offensive.
So while one way to look at it is that he’s declining, another is that he’s just levelling off at a more reasonable level of support, some of the early irrational enthusiasm wiped away.
Which is to say, he can still win Iowa, still run a strong second in New Hampshire, and still win South Carolina and Florida. If anything, his problem is not his poll numbers but his on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote campaigns, which were late getting going because he wasn’t really a serious candidate until just recently. So it’s possible he’ll end up underperforming relative to expectations simply because of a lack of organization (and, relatively speaking, a lack of money). But maybe not. He’s still the most viable non-Romney option the Republicans have, and we all know Republicans really don’t want Romney as their nominee (other than some in the elite and those worried primarily about electability, and so certainly not the base, not most primary voters).
Remember when Newt said that “it’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee”? That was on December 1. While I’d love to see The Newt as the nominee (because he’d be a disaster in the general election), it’s hard not to feel a certain Schadenfreude in observing his dramatic fall. It really couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.