Did “The Establishment” Take Down Newt?

I don’t often disagree with my old and esteemed friend Josh Marshall, but his analysis of Newt Gingrich’s apparent fall seems a bit off. When Newt was first “surging,” Josh said “the Republican Establishment” would take him down. And that’s exactly what has happened, he’s concluded:

We’ve seen a lot of candidate downfalls over the last few months. What sets Newt apart is that he didn’t do anything of note to trigger it like Perry or Cain. For Gingrich, he was on remarkably good behavior. There was just a wall; from almost everyone professional concerned with the Republican party; of no. And it worked.

I have a couple of issues with that explanation. First of all, Newt didn’t “collapse” nationally; his support collapsed in Iowa, where he was getting pounded hourly by negative ads. And second, the content of those ads wasn’t about Newt’s wild-ass tendencies or his electability, the things professional Republicans worry about. The ads were almost exclusively aimed at identifying Newt as the embodiment of Republican Establishment, and questioning his right-wing credentials. Certainly a lot of these ads (particularly those from the pro-Romney Super-PAC Restore Our Future that has literally poured millions into Iowa) were paid for and backed by elements of The Establishment, but to that extent they were having to disingenuously attack him from the point of view of their intra-party Tea Party challengers.

Newt’s real problem wasn’t that The Establishment didn’t like him, but that his record poorly fit the mantle he was trying to claim as the True Conservative Outsider fighting to save the GOP from Mitt Romney. The ads made that manifest, and down went Gingrich in Iowa, with his national support levels slowly following as the media focused on his troubles.

Back at Newt’s absolute peak of support, when it looked like he might actually win, I wrote this disclaimer at The New Republic:

I am not, repeat not, by any means arguing that Gingrich is anything like a shoo-in for the nomination at this point. The exposure of his many heresies against conservative orthodoxy, stressed so avidly by his opponents in the first Iowa debate, may still sink in among voters. Late and highly coordinated endorsements from right-wing opinion-leaders like Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats and Steve King could lift another candidate like Perry, Bachmann, or Santorum just enough to wreck Gingrich’s momentum in Iowa. Or Ron Paul could win the caucuses, making New Hampshire the real starting point.

All these pitfalls for Gingrich have come to pass: exposure of his not-so-right-wing record by the negative ads, a Santorum “surge” fed by Christian Right endorsements, and a real show of strength by Ron Paul. The Establishment is undoubtedly chortling at his demise. But it was Newt’s record, not their disdain, that has taken him down.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.