Is Newt Gingrich the Christine O'Donnell of Election 2012?

Some analysts of Election 2012 are comparing the two, saying that Newt Gingrich may be setting the party up to lose a winnable race, as Christine O’Donnell did a little over a year ago.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
2010 Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell delivers remarks at Values Voter Summit in Washington in 2010.

Is Newt Gingrich the Christine O’Donnell of the national Republican Party?

You remember Ms. O’Donnell, of course. She’s the tea party favorite who defeated then-Rep. Mike Castle, the GOP establishment choice, in Delaware’s 2010 Senate primary. Dogged by reports that she’d dabbled in the dark arts as a teen, she ran a memorable ad during the general-election campaign that began with her saying, “I'm not a witch.” Democrat Chris Coons subsequently cruised to an easy victory.

Well, Mr. Gingrich is unlikely to begin an ad by staring into the camera and saying, “I am not a wizard.” But some Republican analysts compare the two, saying that Gingrich may be setting the party up to lose a winnable race, as O’Donnell did a little over a year ago.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter hit this theme big during an appearance on Washington’s WMAL radio on Monday. She told the station’s “Morning Majority” show that while the ex-speaker has done great things for the GOP in the past, “he does not have a prayer of a chance in a general election.”

With Gingrich, Ms. Coulter said, you get wild over-the-top assertions. She remembered that in 1994, after he was set to become speaker of the House, he proposed opening up orphanages and creating janitorial jobs for poor kids on welfare.

“It made [GOP lawmakers] sound like Dickensian brutes,” said Coulter.

Coulter – who’s so fiery that her latest book is titled “Demonic” – then compared Gingrich to the tea party favorites who scored upset primary victories in 2010, only to crash in flames in the midterms.

“I see Newt Gingrich as the [Nevada Senate candidate] Sharron Angle or the Christine O’Donnell of the national party,” said Coulter.

OK, but Coulter is a Romney backer. She said so herself. Is this comparison unfair?

Well, first of all, Gingrich would have to win the GOP nomination for it to really apply. Right now, that’s certainly possible: He’s tied with Mitt Romney in the national polls. But it looks less likely than it did a week ago. Attack ads from GOP rivals – and anti-Newt rhetoric from Coulter and other GOP luminaries – have caused Gingrich to sink in the polls in recent weeks. Suddenly he’s in big trouble in Iowa, for instance.

And Gingrich doesn’t represent the tea party faction of the party so much as he does the anti-Romney faction, which is pretty big. Upwards of 70 percent of GOP voters opt for candidates other than the ex-Massachusetts governor. So in that sense, it’s not as if Gingrich is sneaking up on a beloved establishment figure, as O’Donnell did in Delaware. He’s simply the latest person around whom the sizable stop-Mitt crowd has coalesced.

Gingrich himself has lashed out at his rivals' campaign against him.

“I really wish they would have the courage to be positive, and I wish they would have the courage to have a campaign which would match ideas [rather] than see whose consultants can be the nastier,” he said Monday in Iowa.

True, Gingrich has high negative ratings among independents, as O’Donnell did. In that sense the comparison rings true. The Republicans who pulled the lever for O’Donnell in the Delaware primary just did not see, or chose to ignore, that she was viewed very differently by the state electorate at large. She was in no sense electable.

But here’s one huge difference between “not a witch” and the ex-speaker: O’Donnell supports Romney. She endorsed him earlier this month, presenting editors with a glorious opportunity to work sorcery on their headlines. Our favorite was “No 'aye' of Newt: Christine O’Donnell endorses Mitt Romney.”

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