GOP grudge match gets different media take than Dems in '08

"Nobody makes the case against Obamanomics better than Mitch Daniels. He has helped grow Indiana's economy by cutting spending and freeing job creators. If it happens that some people wish that he would run for president, that's not going to keep us from asking the most qualified person."

-- Senior House leadership aide when asked by Power Play why the Indiana governor got the nod from House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to give the Republican rebuttal to President Obama's third State of the Union speech.

One of the most reliable pollsters for Florida elections, Quinnipiac University, says that the Sunshine State GOP primary is now a dead heat between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. A month ago, Romney led by a dozen points.

In fact, a look at the Real Clear Politics Average in Florida and the most recent one-day snapshot polls suggests that Gingrich may not yet have found his ceiling. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is sitting on 12 percent of Republican of the vote. If he is seen as not viable and Gingrich really has won the Not Romney primary with his South Carolina cannon shot, the former speaker has lots of room to grow.

The real question is whether, in this roller-coaster nomination process, Gingrich is peaking too soon. In such a volatile race, six days is an eternity. Florida has seen five lead changes since reliable public polling began last summer. Gingrich and Romney have traded places atop the field twice this month alone.

Meantime, an increasing number of media outlets have seized on the idea that it may be neither Gingrich nor Romney who lift their arms in victory at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August.

NBC News, particularly, has taken to the idea that a late entrant to the GOP race could jump in, win enough delegates and end up being the selection of a raucous, contested convention.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported after the network's debate Monday an ominous warning from a Romney backer that party fathers would simply not allow the volatile Gingrich to be the nominee if Romney faltered in Florida: "'We're going to have try to come up with someone as an alternative to Newt Gingrich who could be Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, someone,'" she quoted this Romneyite as saying, with a pledge to reconvene the smoke-filled room.

And NBC's Brian Williams introduced Indiana Gov. Daniels' rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union speech with the arch of an eyebrow suggesting that could be the start of the revenge of the GOP establishment, even talking about the effort by Fox News contributor and Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol to draft another candidate into the race.

This story line is appealing to reporters for a couple of reasons. First, it holds the possibility of a great story to cover: a Republican Party ripping at the seams, a brokered convention, intrigue, backstabbing, Gingrich raging against the elites and no end to a very personal, very ugly GOP race. Given the fact that a fortnight ago, the smart money said the race would be over by the start of February, one can hardly blame a political reporter for liking the idea of keeping the game going.

Just as important, though, is the fact that the story line confirms the narrative of the establishment press: The GOP field is impossibly weak, the party is hopelessly divided by the Tea Party movement and Barack Obama will win re-election.

One could easily have taken the same view of the Democratic process in 2008, and argued that the anti-war Obama liberals and establishment, Clinton moderates were utterly at odds and only driving each other's negatives up and guaranteeing a Republican victory, requiring a white knight to save the party. Clinton was weak, Obama was improbable and Republicans had a ton of structural advantages.

Power Play doesn't recall Brian Williams spending much time wondering if Evan Bayh or Howard Dean would be drafted into the race to prevent a disaster.

But this time, the battle is evidence of certain disaster and requires a urgent rescue operation, despite having an incumbent president with the lowest average job approval rating at the start of his fourth year of any since Jimmy Carter and with the economy still sputtery.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows Obama with a 45 percent favorability rating overall and a lousy 31 percent among independents. That's not job approval, which came in at 43 percent overall and 37 percent among independents, but rather favorability -- "what do you think of the guy?" That's dire for a politician who is trying to run not on his record but on his vision and aspirations for a second term.

While Romney scored a measly 19 percent on his favorability with independents, the largest bloc were those undecided on the former Massachusetts governor. This weak showing is attributable to the fact that independents are arrayed fairly evenly across the political spectrum. All liberal independents don't like Romney, but moderate and conservative independents are still mostly mulling over their choices.

We don't even know what independents thought of Gingrich in the poll because it was during one his periods of collapse and before his South Carolina Lazarus act.

But much like the attacks on Romney's "vulture capitalism" from his fellow Republicans, the establishment press amplifies the cry among some on the right for a mainstream conservative savior or else certain Republican doom because it matches up with the conventional wisdom.

As this drumbeat, amplified by the press corps, grows, someone may yet get in. The conventional wisdom isn't always wrong, especially when chatter itself is the best evidence of truth. The more it is discussed, the more likely it becomes. And Democrats certainly love to talk about it because the more it is discussed the less likely it will be that Republicans begin to accept and embrace what's available.

Here's the irony for the mainstream conservatives hoping to bring Daniels or another candidate into the race: to make it happen, they need Gingrich to win in Florida and then keep on winning.

If Romney wins next week and performs well on Super Tuesday, the chances of him arriving at the convention without enough votes plummets. Only Gingrich, the unlikely frontrunner still scrambling to build an organization, can provide the tumult and uncertainty the "Anybody Else" team needs to get their way.

Mitchell's Romney source was quite right about the revenge of the smoke-filled room. Given the disdain for Gingrich among many of his former colleagues in Congress and Potomac power brokers, a Gingrich win in Florida would bring out every effort imaginable to derail his candidacy.

While Obama was mostly an unknown quantity, Gingrich has amassed an army of enemies in his 40 years in public life. They can't pick a nominee, but they might be able to block one and allow Romney to take the battle all the way to the convention.

How odd that in order for the Anybody Elsers to get their way, the somebody they like least is the one whose immediate success is most crucial to their larger goal.

This political note has said it before and will say it again: What a weird year.

And Now, A Word From Charles

"I think the president has made a strategic decision at the end of last year that his only hope for reelection is to go against the Republicans, to do a Truman and say it's a do-nothing congress. He doesn't want agreement.

"He could have a tax reform in a month. He knows that. He doesn't want that. He thinks his only chance given the record he had, and it isn't a strong one, is run on division and to say: 'I believe in the middle class. I believe in equality. I believe that Romney for example ought to be paying higher taxes.'"

-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."