Comebacks and Comedowns

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Begala

From Tim Pawlenty to Newt Gingrich, Campaign 2012 already has its losers and lucky duckies.

I know we're nine months away from Election Day, but even at this early stage we've learned a lot. So let's take an early assessment of winners and losers from Campaign 2012.

WINNERS

Super PACs: The big-money groups conjured into existence by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United campaign-finance ruling have had a big impact on the GOP race. When Newt Gingrich began to surge in Iowa, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney hammered him. Newt didn't respond, nor did the pro-Gingrich super PAC. The result? Gingrich came in fourth and didn't carry a single Iowa county. But he learned his lesson. The super PAC supporting him, fueled by a $5 million donation from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, fought back in South Carolina, and Newt won. For better or worse, super PACs are now a powerful force in our political system. (Full disclosure: I advise Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC.)

Newt Gingrich: The most divisive and self-destructive politician of our time, Gingrich has also shown remarkable resilience. He was humiliated last summer when he took his wife on a Mediterranean cruise instead of campaigning, prompting his staff to resign. He survived the revelations that he has a seven-figure line of credit at Tiffany's, as well as details of his prior marriages that would cause any normal person to curl up into a fetal position. But he keeps coming back. As the guy who dubbed Bill Clinton "the Comeback Kid," I love a resurrection narrative.

Rick Santorum: No, he will never be president, but Santorum's eloquent and heartfelt victory speech in Iowa and his strong debate performances have pointed the way to a future potential cabinet job--or even a return to his old gig at Fox News.

Ron Paul: For a man in his 70s, Paul is playing a long game. He openly admits that he doesn't even dream of being president, but I suspect he dreams of his son, Rand, living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Rand is a Republican senator from Kentucky who observers believe will inherit his father's passionate followers--and his fundraising base.

Debates: Not since Abe Lincoln and Stephen Douglas stood on tree stumps have debates mattered this much. Millions of Americans have tuned in, and they were rewarded by the ultimate reality-TV show. …