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April 26, 2011, 3:10 a.m.

Busi­ness­man Don­ald Trump stopped by “Late Night” on 11/12.

Trump, on run­ning for pres­id­ent in ‘12: “Well, the word ‘run­ning’ is too strong. I’m think­ing about it for the first time in my life.”

More Trump: “I hate what’s hap­pen­ing to the coun­try. I hate what OPEC is do­ing to us. They’re just suck­ing the lifeblood out of us, and nobody is there to ne­go­ti­ate. Nobody is there to talk, and nobody is there to be tough. I hate what China is do­ing. You know, we’re re­build­ing China be­cause, I don’t want to say everything but a lot of the things that we make, we used to make product. We don’t make any­thing any­more. China makes it, and we are re­build­ing China. Now if some­body else did it, I would be happy. But nobody is step­ping for­ward. Nobody is say­ing what’s go­ing on. … So I hate see­ing what’s hap­pen­ing and so do a lot of oth­er people. So, I’m think­ing about it.”

NBC’s Fal­lon: “Well, good. If you are look­ing for a run­ning mate, I’m avail­able” (“Late Night,” NBC, 10/12).

The Gal­lup na­tion­al track­ing poll and vari­ous pub­lic and private polls con­duc­ted in Iowa in­dic­ate that the bloom is com­ing off former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich’s rose, just as it did for Rep. Michele Bach­mann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former God­fath­er’s Pizza CEO Her­man Cain be­fore him.

The most ideo­lo­gic­al two-thirds of the Re­pub­lic­an Party des­per­ately want a hard-char­ging, take-no-pris­on­ers con­ser­vat­ive mes­sen­ger as their nom­in­ee. They seem to be con­tinu­ally dis­ap­poin­ted.

In the five-night mov­ing av­er­age Gal­lup track of Re­pub­lic­ans na­tion­wide, for ex­ample, Gin­grich had peaked with 37 per­cent in the Dec. 1-5 track. He main­tained a 15-point lead over former Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, who had 22 per­cent at the time. All oth­er can­did­ates were in single di­gits.

Since then, the bom­bard­ment of cri­ti­cism from much of the Re­pub­lic­an and con­ser­vat­ive es­tab­lish­ment has fo­cused on Gin­grich. In Iowa, neg­at­ive ads from so-called “su­per PACs” al­lied with vari­ous op­pon­ents have trained their fire on him, tak­ing a heavy toll on the Geor­gi­an’s new­found sup­port.

In the Gal­lup na­tion­al track­ing poll re­leased on Monday af­ter­noon — con­duc­ted Dec. 13-18 — Gin­grich’s sup­port has dropped to 26 per­cent, with Rom­ney hold­ing in second place at 24 per­cent and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas run­ning third with 11 per­cent. Perry and Bach­mann, R-Minn., round out the field with 7 per­cent apiece. Former Sen. Rick San­tor­um, R-Pa., re­ceived 4 per­cent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Hunts­man picked up 2 per­cent.

A new CNN na­tion­al poll done Dec. 16-18 shows a sim­il­ar flat­ten­ing res­ult at the top — Gin­grich and Rom­ney tied with 28 per­cent each, Paul in third with 14 per­cent, Bach­mann next with 8 per­cent, fol­lowed by Perry at 7 per­cent, San­tor­um with 4 per­cent, and Hunts­man at 2 per­cent. Nine per­cent picked no one or had no opin­ion.

Note­worthy from that CNN sur­vey is the fact that when the 436 Re­pub­lic­ans in­ter­viewed were asked whom they would con­sider sup­port­ing (if they wer­en’t already) and whom they would not con­sider sup­port­ing, 43 per­cent said they would not con­sider sup­port­ing Paul, 42 per­cent could not back Bach­mann, 33 per­cent couldn’t go with Perry, and 24 per­cent saw Gin­grich as the no-fly zone; the low­est “couldn’t sup­port” of the five can­did­ates tested was Rom­ney — just 16 per­cent said they couldn’t back him.

Some 54 per­cent of those who didn’t pick Perry as their first choice said they would con­sider sup­port­ing him; Rom­ney was 2 points back with 52 per­cent; Bach­mann was second choice among 46 per­cent; Gin­grich was a backup for 44 per­cent; and Paul fin­ished last in that cat­egory with 39 per­cent.

This ques­tion is a good test of elasti­city — which can­did­ate has the abil­ity to ex­pand sup­port — and sug­gests that the talk that Rom­ney has a low ceil­ing, and bag­gage that pre­vents him from mov­ing fur­ther up, may be greatly ex­ag­ger­ated.

The one most re­cent pub­lic poll of 597 likely Iowa Re­pub­lic­an caucus at­tendees, con­duc­ted Dec. 16-18 (mar­gin of er­ror, +/- 4 per­cent) by the Demo­crat­ic-af­fil­i­ated firm Pub­lic Policy Polling, showed Paul hav­ing surged to 23 per­cent. It also had Rom­ney in second place with 20 per­cent and Gin­grich third with 14 per­cent.  Round­ing out the field were Bach­mann, Perry, and San­tor­um, each tied with 10 per­cent. Hunts­man was in sev­enth with 4 per­cent, with former New Mex­ico Gov. Gary John­son in last place with 2 per­cent. The re­main­ing 7 per­cent were un­de­cided or for someone else. Some in­siders doubt that Paul has surged that high, sug­gest­ing a flat­ter top to the race.

It would seem that the fo­cal point of at­tacks on Gin­grich is his lack of a real cam­paign ap­par­at­us com­pared to the or­gan­iz­a­tions of Paul or Rom­ney, both now and four years ago. Crit­ics also re­mark that Gin­grich lacks the more net­worked or­gan­iz­a­tion­al struc­ture. They ar­gue that he does not use, for ex­ample, the home-school net­work that former Arkan­sas Gov. Mike Hucka­bee painstak­ingly put to­geth­er four years ago.

Gin­grich is drop­ping par­tic­u­larly fast, un­able to fin­an­cially or or­gan­iz­a­tion­ally push back.

It seems that Paul has the best field or­gan­iz­a­tion. San­tor­um has com­mit­ted the most time to go­ing the most places — all 99 counties in Iowa as of a week or so ago. Bach­mann has her own cadre of pas­sion­ate back­ers. Rom­ney has a strong but low-pro­file struc­ture work­ing on his be­half as well. It is de­signed to max­im­ize per­form­ance, while min­im­iz­ing ex­pect­a­tions and risk.

Gin­grich had mo­mentum, but that now seems to be run­ning on va­pors.

My hunch is that the Iowa res­ults will be something of a muddle. If I had to bet on someone com­ing out on top it would prob­ably be Paul, a unique con­tender, but one who can draw very deep and in­tense sup­port. Yet, he has little po­ten­tial to broaden his reach, giv­en some of his more exot­ic po­s­i­tions. It’s not hard to find Re­pub­lic­ans who totally agree with one or two things he says. Once they are ex­posed to oth­er po­s­i­tions he has taken, though, they just as vehe­mently dis­agree. In a sev­en- or eight-way field, Paul can do fine. But as the field nar­rows and the fo­cus shifts onto him and his spe­cif­ic po­s­i­tions, his sup­port nat­ur­ally nar­rows.

If I were a con­tender for the Re­pub­lic­ans, I wouldn’t mind hav­ing the race nar­row down to two, with Paul be­ing the op­pos­ing can­did­ate. The ranks of Re­pub­lic­ans who are am­bi­val­ent about the killing of Osama bin Laden alone is a rar­efied group. An­oth­er four or five is­sues can nar­row it down to the small single di­gits.

There are no oth­er de­bates or sched­uled big events between now and the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. The hol­i­day sea­son ap­pro­pri­ately draws pub­lic at­ten­tion. The next two weeks ought to be a fairly quiet, stable peri­od, with noth­ing likely to shake things up un­til the caucuses are held.

The big ques­tion is wheth­er a polit­ic­ally and fin­an­cially vi­able al­tern­at­ive to Rom­ney emerges from Iowa. If Paul wins, giv­en the lack of elasti­city of his sup­port, the liber­tari­an’s vic­tory would be a very fa­vor­able out­come for Rom­ney. While the more con­ser­vat­ive wing of the GOP wants something more exot­ic than the former Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor, they don’t want to go that far.


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