Let’s say you knew something – something big about one of the major candidates for President during the primaries. That’s the scenario that appeared to be the case after Nancy Pelosi claimed to “know something” about Newt Gingrich that would prevent him from becoming President. She has since walked it back, but there’s nothing I love more than a hypothetical so here we go:
If you have dirt on a candidate during a primary, how would you use it?
First of all, let’s clarify the kind of dirt we’re talking about here – since it’s a hypothetical, let’s assume it’s apocalyptic. A piece of information (presumably with accompanying proof) so bad that it would absolutely sink the candidate in either the primary or the general – proof of him taking an outright bribe, use of public funds to cover up their gay love affair, a video of the candidate throwing a puppy off a bridge while punching your grandma in the face, whatever the case, the dirt is absolutely devastating.
Second of all, there’s two cases here – if it’s your party or the other guy’s party. That’s part of the reason the statement by Pelosi didn’t really make sense – if you have dirt on a potential opponent, there’s no reason to telegraph or air it out during the primary. If I’m President Obama and I’ve got proof of Romney smothering kittens for fun, you want the GOP to walk right into it and nominate the guy before you make the information public. Likewise, if Pelosi really had dirt on Gingrich, she wouldn’t be telling everyone about it on 60 Minutes – she’d sit back and hope he got the nomination, then use it to wrap up victory in the general.
It’s a little more complicated if you have dirt on a guy in your own party. If you like the guy and want him to get the nomination, you could keep your mouth shut – and hope you’re the only one with the proof. If you like the other guy, you might leak it to help your guy got the nomination – if Romney has dirt on Gingrich, he’s damn well going to use it, and vice versa.
And then, of course, you could be an independent. In which case you probably sell the information to the highest bidder and call it a day….. which brings me to my armchair political anaylsis for the day.
Could Gingrich’s campaign actually help Romney in the general? I don’t think that’s the goal, but it might have that effect – Gingrich’s negatives are extremely high. By putting himself at contrast to Romney, moderates and independents watching the GOP race might think “Well, Romney looks pretty good in comparison!” Gingrich started pushing this week for labeling Romney a “liberal.” It’s not particularly believable, but further casts Romney as a moderate – which will probably help him among independents in the general. Sure, those attacks hur Romney among conservatives, but the GOP doesn’t have to be particularly concerned about them, since it’s not like they’re going to vote for Obama over Romney.
While the attacks by Gingrich against Romney are probably too personal to have this effect, I think it’s an interesting notion for partisan politics – if you have an heir apparent that you want to make more appealing to moderates going into the general election, there’s no better way to do it than having him run against an unlikeable guy from the extreme wing of your party….