The GOP has a big problem which is playing out in Florida right now but won't go away anytime soon. This clip from Neil Cavuto's show last Friday is an excellent example of the inner Republican struggle between centrists and those on the very far right. Eric Bolling guest-hosted Cavuto's show, which was devoted to building up Mitt Romney while very subtly pulling down the other candidates. In this segment, former GE CEO Jack Welch is cautioning mainstream Republicans to treat Ron Paul with kid gloves so he can capture all of those passionate kids who have signed on to Paul's campaign.
There are numerous reasons for Ron Paul's popularity among younger people, but whatever the attraction, he will not win the nomination and he knows it. He has repeatedly stated that his goal is to amass delegates in order to push at the Republican convention for his largely libertarian agenda. And while Paul is certainly capturing the absolutist, idealist spirit in some young folks, he's also alienating the largest part of the Republican base: older Americans.
With all of that in mind, Jack Welch is cautioning Republicans to be very, very nice to Ron Paul and "give him a speech" at the convention as a way to "treat him with dignity."
Meanwhile, John Heilemann thinks Newt Gingrich is just angry-mad-dog enough to keep pushing on past Florida, mostly because he hates Mitt Romney with a hard passion. In a column for New York Magazine, he says that Gingrich seems to understand that he will lose and lose big in Florida but has no intention of letting it go, and has begun to fashion a message rather than a series of attacks.
I disagree with Heilemann to some extent. Newt is not out there on his own limb frothing at the mouth. No, he's one of the candidates of choice for the astroturf section of the Tea Party movement, represented by groups like Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Express. These groups did not spring up in 2009 from grassroots origins, but represent the hardline conservative core of the Republican Party, as represented by the likes of Sal Russo and Judson Phillips. They are not going away quietly.
Here is an image from today's Freedomworks email to members. They've been actively soliciting donations for their 501(c)(4) arm to "educate" the grassroots for months. While they're not endorsing a candidate, here's a snapshot of what their membership thinks:
As we well know, Freedomworks has very, very deep pockets. If they line up behind Newt, he'll have the money to keep going and he certainly has the backing of Sheldon Adelson, who has put a lot of money into Newt before and would likely have no problem doing it again.
Whether it's Santorum or Gingrich matters less to these groups than THAT it's one of the two. This isn't just "anyone but Mitt." They don't want Ron Paul anywhere near the nomination either, but they definitely don't want Mitt Romney to get it.
The crack in the GOP machine opened wide in 2008. Conventional wisdom says that John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate without vetting her. I don't believe that. I believe Palin was the choice of the hardline conservatives in the party who were not going to be quiet about a so-called 'centrist' like McCain running for President without one of their own on the ticket. Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have a working relationship that goes back to 2008, long before she was chosen as McCain's running mate. And now the tables are turned with Palin acting as a Gingrich surrogate.
Despite the mainstream Republican establishment nearly losing their minds over this internecine war, one fact is indisputable right now: For the moment, Newt Gingrich is ahead of Mitt Romney in the national polls, which gives him all the reason he needs to keep chewing Mitt Romney apart, bit by bit, piece by piece.
Advantage? Barack Obama.