Good morning and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's place for perspective and discussion. I'm Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial board, and I'll be hosting today.
We'll be watching the developing chaos surrounding a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut, which has stalled after Republican House members objected Sunday to a Senate agreement to extend the cut for two months. We're in favor of a payroll tax cut extension, if it's paid for, although a two-month extension is too temporary to prompt the consumer spending and business hiring that advocates have said a full-year extension would bring. It would be a stunner, however, if Republicans, despite their misgivings about the extension, handed Democrats a political gift by allowing the tax cut to expire at the first of the year.
The other big buzz this morning? The maligning of Newt Gingrich from within his own party is finally taking a toll.
A new Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa shows Gingrich sinking suddenly - "imploding," says PPP's Tom Jensen - with Ron Paul now taking the lead in the state and Gingrich sliding to a distant third.
Paul leads with 23 percent in the poll, released this morning. Mitt Romney has 20 percent, with 14 percent for Gingrich, 10 percent each for Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, 4 percent for Jon Huntsman, and two percent for Gary Johnson.
That's a 13 percent drop in the past two PPP polls for Gingrich, and Jensen says that negative ads have taken their toll: Gingrich's personal favorability numbers have gone from 62 percent positive to 52 percent, with respondents who have an unfavorable impression of him rising from 31 to 40 percent.
The polls in Iowa and elsewhere continue to be volatile as Republicans search for a candidate not named Romney. But, says Jensen, Paul's rise is a sign that campaigns actually do matter some in Iowa. Says Jensen:
22% of voters think he's run the best campaign in the state compared to only 8% for Gingrich and 5% for Romney. The only other candidate to hit double digits on that question is Bachmann at 19%. Paul also leads Romney 26-5 (with Gingrich at 13%) with the 22% of voters who say it's 'very important' that a candidate spends a lot of time in Iowa.There's still two weeks of campaigning left before the Jan. 3 caucus, but historically, candidates that begin to decline in Iowa don't recover. A Gingrich loss - especially if he finishes third behind Romney - would clearly be a blow to his campaign. Given Romney's likely victory in New Hampshire, Gingrich would be reeling as the primaries move to South Carolina, where Newt would have to get a win.
Liberals are gleeful about the chaos. Says Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne: "The establishment was happy to use Gingrich’s tactics to win elections, but it never expected to lose control of the party to the voters it rallied with such grandiose negativity."
The New York Times Frank Bruni adds that while most politicians are full of themselves, Gingrich is overstuffed.
The Weekly Standard's William Kristol wonders if the volatility among Republicans could lead to a convention in which delegates didn't merely rubber-stamp what the primaries gave them. That might be a good thing, Kristol says.