Now that Herman Cain has "suspended his campaign" (I've decided to honor him by suspending my reading of anything further about his candidacy/book tour), the race is down to three people: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. At this point, the question isn't so much whether Gingrich can beat Romney (he can), but whether Gingrich will beat Gingrich.
This task is complicated by the fact that there isn't just one Gingrich. He's a very Walt Whitmanesque candidate - he celebrates himself, he sings of himself, he is large, and he contains multitudes.
And it wasn't just a low bar to become the Non-Romney; it was also not that hard to become a real contender once Primary Non-Romney status was attained. It's been clear for a while that people don't exactly warm to Romney. He addresses the nation like an accountant -- and conversations with your accountant, however necessary, are never something you look forward to.
Newt, meanwhile, is like the crazy uncle you stay up late with after dinner, drinking and shooting the bull. He's fun, but you're never going to say yes to the crazy investment schemes he's always bringing to you.
Romney was always going to have trouble if the Non-Romney vote consolidated behind one person, as appears to be happening with Gingrich. But, luckily for Romney, the one person it has consolidated behind is himself several people.
It has been so many Gingriches ago, it's hard to even recall the Gingrich of the early and mid-'90s. That was the Gingrich who, in his first speech as speaker, called FDR "the greatest president of the 20th century," and said, "The balanced budget is the right thing to do. But it does not, in my mind, have the moral urgency of coming to grips with what is happening to the poorest Americans."
That was Gingrich 1.0 - many, many iterations ago. And like Microsoft Windows, he's gotten worse with each successive version.
This latest Gingrich is the one who calls child labor laws "truly stupid," and recently claimed, "Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash' unless it's illegal."
This is the Gingrich who suggested that Chris Dodd and Barney Frank should be jailed for having "profited from the environment" that caused the financial crisis, yet himself pocketed $1.6 million from Freddie Mac - which he then claimed was for giving advice as a "historian."
This is the Gingrich who appeared in an ad with then-Speaker Pelosi urging action on climate change, but who last week, in answer to a question about whether climate change was manmade, said, "I believe we don't know."
And, perhaps most memorably, he called Paul Ryan's budget plan "radical" and "right-wing social engineering" and then not only quickly took it back but said: "Any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood . . . because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate."
Gingrich has challenged President Obama to a series of "Lincoln-Douglas style debates," but it might be more useful, or at least entertaining, for Gingrich to debate all the other Gingriches first. Sparks would certainly fly.
The conventional wisdom holds that Gingrich's surge in the polls might not last because he has no ground game. But the biggest threat to his ability to beat Romney is not his ground game, it's his head game.
We'll find out starting in four weeks, when actual voters take over from the pundits and prognosticators. It should be interesting, since that's enough time for at least three or four more Gingriches to emerge.
(Arianna Huffington's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)