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Opinion: Newt's Pivot to Middle Pays off in NH

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Gingrich is playing a fake to the center in order to influence independents and moderate Republicans.

Newt Gingrich said at the debate on Foreign Policy in Washington, “I’m prepared to take the heat to say let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them [illegal immigrants] citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”

Michelle Bachmann fired back a couple of day later that Gingrich is the most liberal of the 2012 field of GOP presidential candidates. Newt is denying that he favors “amnesty” for illegal’s, saying he would work to make legal the status of illegal folks who have been in the U.S. for 25 years.

That’s going to make it mighty hard for Iowa’s conservative establishment to endorse Newt. Although illegal immigration and border security have been less visible than jobs and gay marriage, they are nonetheless part of the litmus test candidates must pass in the Hawkeye state's republican presidential gauntlet.

So, what’s up with Newt? I’ve figured out what Gingrich is doing.

He is playing a fake to the center in order to influence independents and moderate Republicans. In the next poll he hopes that HE (not Mitt Romney) will be “the candidate most likely to beat Barak Obama.”

The party's independent faction is less hardcore on deportation of illegal immigrants than GOP faithful. That may then change the dynamic in other states including New Hampshire, where Gingrich's move to the center has already paid off with an endorsement from the Union Leader newspaper. If Newt comes in second there and does will in South Carolina and Texas the big picture game will change and Romney would look much less attractive as the go-to-guy to beat Obama.

What's puzzling to me about Mitt Romney is that as he continues his painful slog through the early states, the GOP base seems to be doing everything except swing in his direction.

But an old hand at New Hampshire politics told me in Manchester a couple of days ago that if Mitt nails the Granite State primary, "the rest of the pack will fall in line, even the Tea Partiers."

Clearly, New Hampshire is still up for grabs where Gingrich's pivot to the middle is now a real threat to Romney.

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, blogs for the Des Moines Register and WNYC “It’s a Free Country,” and is chief political correspondent for