Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He is Editor-in-Chief of “The Moderate Voice,” an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
AUSTIN, Texas — It's a new, unsettling era for Republicans on many fronts. For instance, take Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Please.
Many Texans still love Perry and felt badly about his wipe out on the national political stage. The Dallas Morning News had this big headline: "Perry's dream dashed ... With S.C. out of reach, he bows out, backs Gingrich."
A story underneath that: "After failed bid, what's his future?" Columnist Jacquielynn Floyd's headline: "Take Comfort, Rick Perry: you have Texas to call home."
Some analysts now predict Perry faces a new era: He returns with reduced clout and is viewed by foes as weaker. Texas House Democratic Leader Jessica Farrar is already demanding Perry reimburse the state money the governor spent on out-of-state-security costs during his failed White House bid. And the liberal group, Progress Texas, has collected more than 3,000 signatures online to try and force Perry to pay the state back.
But Perry's new era is nothing compared to the new era facing the Republican Party.
It's now in a new era where the conventional wisdom has been upended, its former presumptive front-runner is on the run and the party's traditional establishment seems about to be evicted. Is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney about to lose yet ANOTHER well-funded presidential bid?
Is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on track to become the party's nominee, despite having enough baggage to occupy six TSA inspectors?
The Republicans' new political era was best summarized by The National Journal's Ron Fournier: "Gingrich's stunning South Carolina victory, coupled with his surge in Florida polling, has created near-panic among Republican consultants, lobbyists, elected officials and staffers, particularly in Washington, who believe Gingrich is too volatile and scandal-plagued to defeat Obama."
Romney once enjoyed a 22-point lead going into the Florida primary, but then he caught front-runner-itus and did his best Thomas E. Dewey imitation, while Gingrich roared in the South Carolina debate, becoming the kind of polarizing Rush Limbaugh-esque candidate that many 21st Century conservatives crave.
Romney's tepid debate performances and politically negligent handling of the tax issue then sparked a huge shift: a Rasmussen poll gives Gingrich a 41-32 lead. Public Policy Polling puts Gingrich ahead of Romney 38 percent to 33 percent: a Gingrich gain of 12 points during a week when Romney dropped 8 points. Still, poll numbers are fluid.
The bottom line? Before the South Carolina primary, Romney was Big Mo. After the primary, he was Big Shmo.
Mitt Romney now has more riding on Florida than Lady Godiva had on a horse.
Gingrich is preaching to the very conservative Republican primary voter choir on stage right, and Romney is preaching to the national audience in the middle as well as the choir on stage right –– and the choir does not like or trust the signals Romney's giving to the general audience.
Primary voters seem to be looking for a Talk Show Host in Chief. Meanwhile, a new ABC News/ Washington Post poll puts Gingrich's negatives at 51 percent and Romney's at 49 percent –– a whopping 15 percent increase in Romney's negatives since the Post's last poll.
Where is this all heading?
To another new era. If the current pattern holds, a Republican win would mean the consolidation of the Republican Party's Tea Party movement, talk radio political culture, and Republican infomachine as the new Republican establishment. "Country Club Republicans" will have definitely gone the way of some country clubs in the recession: out of business.
But if the Republican nominee loses big time in November, it'll likely mean the emergence of a Jeb Bush or Christ Christie to pick up the pieces –– GOPers closer to the 20th Century's Republican World Order.
Many say the secret to winning the Presidential election is to win the country's center, but the question will be where the country's center is, and which party can try to shove it toward its own center.
Which could be center left — or far right. And will independent voters agree?
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels,and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at email@example.com.