those pundits willing to entertain “anything’s possible” scenarios to thwart a Gingrich nomination might want to be more open to the possibility of the establishment simply losing, which is not unprecedented. Indeed, it happened in 1964, when the power of the rank-and-file to elect delegates in primaries was extremely limited, and very nearly happened again in 1976, when Ronald Reagan came within an eyelash of denying renomination to a sitting president. In both cases, a very large number of Republican voters showed themselves to be more interested in defeating the Republican establishment than in defeating Democrats.
Of course, I am not, repeat not, by any means arguing that Gingrich is anything like a shoo-in for the nomination at this point. The exposure of his many heresies against conservative orthodoxy, stressed so avidly by his opponents in the first Iowa debate, may still sink in among voters. Late and highly coordinated endorsements from right-wing opinion-leaders like Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats and Steve King could lift another candidate like Perry, Bachmann, or Santorum just enough to wreck Gingrich’s momentum in Iowa. Or Ron Paul could win the caucuses, making New Hampshire the real starting point.
But if Newt loses, it won’t be because of some mystical power of the GOP establishment to deny the nomination to a weak general-election candidate. Conservative activists have a different view of the risks and opportunities of 2012 than either establishment pooh-bahs or the pundits. What looks to some like a winnable-or-losable general election looks to ideologues like the best chance in decades to replay 1964 and repeal the Great Society and the New Deal. In this context, it’s no surprise that the old revolutionary Gingrich looks like a better prospect than Romney to take on that challenge—and if it fails, well, it’s just a small step backwards on the conservative movement’s long march to ultimate victory.
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