Crocodile Fears and Obama's Luck: The Ticker

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By Francis Wilkinson

On the heels of news that Newt Gingrich has taken the lead among likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa, the front page of today's Washington Post features the headline: "Democrats Divided on Threat Posed By Gingrich." (The headline is slightly different online.)

Money quote:

"He does not carry Wall Street baggage," said one Democratic strategist working on the Obama reelection effort, speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss his thinking. "He's really smart. He's definitely authentic."

Students of politics and bad theater are familiar with crocodile tears. Here we have an instance of crocodile fears. True, a Newt Gingrich nomination would not be nearly as welcome to Democrats as some others -- Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann come to mind. But it would surely be a high-wire act. And Gingrich has a well-documented tendency to fall.

Barack Obama had a bizarrely lucky run as a U.S. Senate candidate. At the start of his 2004 Democratic primary, Obama was considered one of a contingent of also-rans slated to be crushed by Blair Hull, a wealthy investor and Democratic activist who financed his own campaign. Hull's campaign destructed after divorce papers revealed unseemly allegations. Obama won.

In the general election, the campaign of Obama's Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, similarly crashed after his divorce papers were unsealed.

In 2008, Obama defeated a formidable primary foe in Hillary Clinton. But in the general election he faced a Republican opponent who first confessed to having little understanding of the economy, then made Sarah Palin his vice presidential pick -- days before the commencement of a global economic meltdown.

Now, with Mitt Romney seeing little return on his efforts to wear down the resistance of the Republican base, Gingrich is fast rising in the polls (whether he is attracting money remains to be seen). As president, Obama has faced awful circumstances. As a candidate who'll be required to justify his handling of those circumstances, Obama faces difficult odds. A Gingrich candidacy would bolster those odds considerably. Obama couldn't possibly be so lucky. Again. Could he?

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)


-0- Dec/05/2011 16:05 GMT