Gingrich bounces off his Iowa ceiling

Remember, about 10 days ago, when Newt Gingrich was soaring in Iowa, had claimed the national lead, and looked well positioned to win three of the first four nominating contests?

Well, forget it. The boom-and-bust pattern that has taken down so many Republican presidential candidates appears to be affecting the disgraced former House Speaker, too.

We saw the first hints of trouble for the Gingrich campaign late last week, and overnight, a new survey from Public Policy Polling confirms that Iowa’s alleged frontrunner has quickly slipped from first to third.

Newt Gingrich’s campaign is rapidly imploding, and Ron Paul has now taken the lead in Iowa. He’s at 23% to 20% for Mitt Romney, 14% for Gingrich, 10% each for Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, 4% for Jon Huntsman, and 2% for Gary Johnson.

Gingrich has now seen a big drop in his Iowa standing two weeks in a row. His share of the vote has gone from 27% to 22% to 14%. And there’s been a large drop in his personal favorability numbers as well from +31 (62/31) to +12 (52/40) to now -1 (46/47). [emphasis added]

What I find interesting about Gingrich’s precipitous fall is how different it is from the other former frontrunners. Bachmann, Perry, and Cain were each riding high for a short while, but were brought down by self-inflicted wounds — gaffes, awful debate performances, controversial policy positions, and in Cain’s case, sex scandals.

Gingrich’s collapse is very different. The former Speaker didn’t do anything in particular to derail his chances; he just ran into a buzzsaw he couldn’t control — Gingrich, especially in Iowa, faced a barrage of attack ads, which he lacked the resources to respond to. This coincided with an aggressive push from the Republican establishment to derail Gingrich’s chances.

This isn’t to say it’s too late for the former Speaker — the caucuses are two weeks from tomorrow — but it looks as if Gingrich hit his ceiling too early, and then quickly bounced off of it. With the PPP poll showing Santorum, Bachmann, and Perry all breaking into double digits in Iowa — the former Speaker is now closer to fourth place than second — it’s going to be very tough for Gingrich to reclaim the momentum.

Ron Paul, meanwhile, now appears well positioned to actually win the Iowa caucuses. (Let that thought roll around in your brain for a few seconds.) Given Paul’s likely inability to seriously compete in the contests that follow Iowa, and the perception that he isn’t a credible threat for the nomination, Mitt Romney would gladly take this outcome — it would do significant harm to Gingrich’s viability, and make it that much more likely that Romney is the last Republican standing.