Will he still be laughing in eleven months? (Daron Dean/Reuters)
Wednesday's polling offerings continued to offer specific evidence that a long-predicted potential crisis in the GOP threatens to be a legitimate phenomenon. And it might just explain why some big Republican players starting to very publicly kneecap Newt Gingrich.
You see, the data on this has been consistent. Even though Newt Gingrich has become the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, the consolidation of primary support is not moving him into Romney-like parity with Barack Obama in a general election scenario. While the numbers make clear Gingrich is better off than he was when was an also-ran, he still lags a handful of points behind the president in all polls.
Let's explore the numbers, starting with the Republican primary:
NATIONAL (Fairleigh Dickinson): Gingrich 36, Romney 23, Cain 8, Perry 6, Bachmann 4, Paul 4, Santorum 3, Huntsman 2
NATIONAL (Gallup): Gingrich 36, Romney 23, Paul 9, Bachmann 6, Perry 6, Santorum 3, Huntsman 1
NATIONAL (YouGov/Economist): Gingrich 31, Romney 15, Paul 11, Perry 9, Santorum 7, Bachmann 6, Huntsman 6, Johnson 2
IOWA (CNN/Time): Gingrich 33, Romney 20, Paul 17, Perry 9, Bachmann 7, Santorum 5, Huntsman 1
FLORIDA (CNN/Time): Gingrich 48, Romney 25, Paul 5, Bachmann 3, Huntsman 3, Perry 3, Santorum 1
NEW HAMPSHIRE (CNN/Time): Romney 35, Gingrich 26, Paul 17, Huntsman 8, Bachmann 3, Perry 2, Santorum 2
SOUTH CAROLINA (CNN/Time): Gingrich 43, Romney 20, Perry 8, Bachmann 6, Paul 6, Santorum 4, Huntsman 1
And now, the numbers for the general election:
NATIONAL (Fairleigh Dickinson): Obama d. Romney (46-42); Obama d. Gingrich (48-42); Obama d. Huntsman (50-32); Obama d. Perry (53-35); Obama d. Paul (54-35); Obama d. Santorum (55-34); Obama d. Cain (56-30); Obama d. Bachmann (57-30)
NATIONAL (YouGov/Economist): Obama d. Romney (46-44), Obama d. Paul (46-44), Obama d. Gingrich (46-42)
COLORADO (PPP): Obama d. Romney (47-45), Obama d. Gingrich (50-42); Obama d. Paul (48-39); Obama d. Perry (52-37); Obama d. Cain (52-36)
For analysis of the Wednesday nums, head across the fold.
Before exploring the electability issue, let's not ignore the banner headline out of this data set.
Sure, Newt Gingrich is stomping all over Mitt Romney in three of the four early contest states polled Wednesday (Iowa, Florida, and South Carolina). But it is the fourth poll, the only one showing a lead for Romney, that ought to be truly terrifying for Team Mittens.
Even as Gingrich began to consolidate some support in the midst of the Herman Cain implosion, New Hampshire loomed as a pretty formidable early firewall for Mitt Romney. But the new CNN/Time poll in the Granite State has Romney leading Gingrich by just nine percent (35-26).
One would love to ask Karl Rove, he of "the math", the following question: if anything less than a double-digit win in Iowa would be underperforming for Newt Gingrich, what the Hell would a single-digit win for Mitt Romney in friggin' New Hampshire signify?!
Those new state numbers, to say nothing of the trio of national polls released Wednesday, do nothing to change the hardening narrative that Mitt Romney is now chasing Newt Gingrich from behind. Which, of course, might explain why Mr. Consistency himself unleashed the mother of all flip-flops on Wednesday.
But what has also become a clear narrative in this race is that the GOP may well be in the process of denying the nomination to their best bet to defeat Barack Obama. In the three general election trial heats released today, Newt Gingrich ran anywhere from 2-8 points worse against Barack Obama than did Mitt Romney. And, actually, that's somewhat of an improvement in circumstances for Gingrich, who used to underperform Romney by double digits in the not-so-recent past.
What has to be a source of increasing concern and frustration for the GOP is the fact that the stratospheric rise of Gingrich with the GOP faithful is not translating to better numbers across the board. Only one pollster has made the case that Gingrich performs better than Romney in a trial heat with the president (guess who?). Meanwhile, a wide variety of pollsters in the past few weeks (PPP, NBC/Marist, Field Poll, UNH) have noted in either state or national polling that Gingrich has a higher mountain to climb to reach the White House.
Of course, Gingrich is only in the early weeks of his momentum swing. In the coming weeks, it might be more useful to see if there is a dramatic shift in his general election numbers. We'll get a better look at that on Thursday night, as Quinnipiac has announced that new numbers in three swing states (Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania) will be released on Thursday.