Gingrich Lesson in Debate Technique: “Repeat Changers”


With so much talk about how great a debater New Gingrich is, why not watch to learn a little about rhetoric and style from the gentleman from Georgia?

Today’s lesson comes from a recent Republican presidential debate in which Rick Santorum accused Newt Gingrich of being a little grandiose at times. The key word here is “grandiose,” and it was meant to sting.

A skilled debater listens carefully for an opportunity to use a rhetorical device that Jay Heinrichs calls the “repeat changer.” Sometimes that opportunity looks and sounds more like a grave misfortune—worthy of a grunt at best, and a look of terror at worst. The repeat changer repeats the key word or phrase that was used to demean and changes its sense to reflect favorably on the original target.

When Rick Santorum described Newt as someone who can be a bit grandiose at times, he meant that Newt often exaggerates to an absurd extent and often thinks of himself in exaggerated terms. He thus sought to tap into public consciousness, shaped to a degree by recent media focus on . . . . well, Newt’s occasional grandiosity.

How did Newt respond? He did the best thing anyone can do under the circumstance: he repeated the accusation, then switched its sense, suggesting that someone may be considered grandiose because he has grand ideas, and lots of them, for improving things for the American people.

Now this may sound like equivocation. To be sure, the repeat changer does often trade on ambiguity. When it does, it is less effective. But if the shift in sense is mild—as opposed to sharp—there is no harm and no foul. In other words, no fallacy has been committed.

This can be illustrated on one interpretation of Newt Gingrich’s clever rejoinder to Rick Santorum. The basic sense of Santorum’s jibe is preserved, but Newt suggests that Santorum only thinks that Newt is grandiose because Rick is uncomfortable with the grandeur of Newt’s ideas. “Grandiosity” and “grandeur” do differ. But “grandeur” may be mistaken for “grandiosity” by someone who can’t tell the difference. If this is what Newt was getting at, his move was not merely clever, it was ingenious. He might be asking voters, in effect, “Do you want a president who has grand ideas that some confuse with grandiosity, or do you want a president who can’t tell the difference between grand and grandiose?”

In my book, rhetoric has its proper place, especially in public discourse. But it must always be tempered by virtue. So I commend the “repeat changer” when it can be managed without violating the moral and intellectual virtues.

Here’s a poll for you to register your opinion:

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Campaign Management and Government Spending: Romney vs. Gingrich


Now’s the perfect time for Newt Gingrich to make a certain eye-opening argument against the prospects of a Mitt Romney presidency. But first, some background.

Newt Gingrich launched his campaign on a shoestring and he has kept it going in the same fashion. Yet here he is today, with renewed vitality and front-runner status. Contrast Mitt Romney. Romney has been running for president for at least five years—longer, in fact, since his brief stint as Massachusetts governor was part of his everlasting campaign—and spending money like the dickens to ensure that he gets what he wants.

Where would Mitt Romney be without his money to bolster his campaign? With lackluster performance on so many fronts—most visibly during the debates—Romney has been sustained by his fiscal capacity to pay his way to the nomination. He has a large and expensive campaign staff and he has paid dearly for his media advertizing.

“Dearly” is probably not the right word, since how much is a “dear” price to pay for something is relative to how much money you have to begin with and how much you want what you think the money will buy you. In these terms, the cost to Romney has not been so dear. He’ll go one making tens millions of dollars year-after-year, even if he loses the nomination.

As we’ve seen with every president, financial management is a huge component in the unpublished portion of the job description. In fact, Romney has been campaigning on his strength as a financial wizard in the business world, as if this is an especially valuable asset for the contemporary American presidency. He’s been quite explicit about this in recent days.

Now consider, not only the money that Romney has raised—and, indeed, earned—but also the money that Romey has spent, the goals for which he has spent it, and the manner in which he has spent it. I offer his campaign expenditures as Exhibit A. (One might, as well, investigate Romney’s method of throwing money after money in failed business enterprises, as well as in those that have succeeded. But this would be time-consuming and less rewarding as an argument-maker.)

Here, then, is the argument I would be making—starting now—if I was Newt Gingrich:

Governor Romney is also Businessman Romney. He’s recently released his tax return for 2010. It reveals that he made 21.6 million dollars in that one year alone. This figure explains whatever success Mitt Romney has had during this nomination cycle: he’s paid for it. And that makes Americans uncomfortable. As long as Mitt believes he’s spending his own money, and he still has plenty of it, he’ll spend, spend, spend. If he were president today, do you think he would do anything different? Once hard-working Americans “pay” their taxes, the federal government acts like its theirs to spend as they see fit. Would Governor Romney be any different? Where is the evidence, during this campaign, that he knows how to be thrifty? My campaign has been running on big ideas and the energy of hard-working Americans who don’t want big spenders taking over the national treasure. During my campaign, I’ve been spending like it’s your money that I must manage responsibly. And that’s because it is your money. Together, let’s win this nomination. And together, let’s bring this country back in line with real American values.

This argument has several strengths:

  • It would make a virtue of Newt’s comparatively limited treasure chest. (“I couldn’t even defend myself while Romney’s PAC poured money into negative television ads ahead of Iowa.”)
  • It would draw attention to the downside of Romney’s largess.
  • It can be made without begrudging Romney’s material success. The aim is not to engender class warfare, but to draw attention to differences in management styles and fiscal responsibility.
  • It is succinct and intelligible. It makes sense and it will make sense to a lot of people.
  • It can be made during a debate, at almost any moment Gingrich chooses.
  • It can be made during brief press conferences.
  • It can be made with such clarity that other people will be able to articulate the argument, too.

This, at least, is how I see it. What about you? Share your thoughts about this argument in the comment box for this post!

Chuck Norris Endorses Newt Gingrich


I feel like I’m in good company when Chuck Norris endorses Newt Gingrich. Read his list of ten criteria for selecting the best candidate and why Newt is that candidate.

Whose Capitalism?


Mitt Romney doesn’t need to defend capitalism. He needs to defend his version of capitalism. This is the essence of Newt Gingrich’s challenge to Romney in recent days.

Newt has been slapped down, once again, by establishment Republicans who believe that Newt is “hurting the party” with his latest challenge to Romney. They’re saying that Romney will have a more difficult time beating Obama in the general election if his Republican opponents don’t quit what they’re doing.

The chief problem with this silly posturing is that Newt Gingrich, unlike the Republican establishment, simply does not accept their determination to nominate Mitt Romney. Why should Newt care whether establishment Republicans are coming unglued over his effort to put more pressure on their “favorite”? He aims to win the nomination, with or without their support. He wants to demonstrate that they’ve bet their money on the wrong horse.

Time will tell whether he succeeds.

But there is a deeper problem with the Republican backlash against Gingrich. And it has a couple of important components. Fundamentally, establishment Republicans are characterizing Newt’s challenge as an attack on capitalism, and they claim to resent this because Republican candidates for the presidency are supposed to fall in line with their version of capitalism. Their attack on Gingrich is simply disingenuous; they aren’t telling half the truth.

This is because Newt is at least as committed to capitalism as Mitt is. But Newt is suspicious of Mitt’s version of capitalism, according to which it’s fair for anyone to make a buck at anyone’s expense, by whatever means and with whatever effects, as long as it’s legal. An ethically sensitive—and morally sensible—capitalist should repudiate such an attitude.

Here’s the last line in Romney’s latest defensive campaign ad:

We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but as The Wall Street Journal said, “Mr. Romney’s GOP opponents . . . are embarrassing themselves” by taking the Obama line.

Wouldn’t you like to know who at The Wall Street Journal that said that, what kind of column it was, and whether this is the uniform attitude of everyone at the WSJ? And who cares what the WSJ says if they’re wrong? The WSJ should welcome a debate about the character and genius of capitalism and its several varieties. Newt Gingrich wants to have that debate, and he may get it at the next Republican presidential debate before the South Carolina primary.

It’s possible that Romney’s version of capitalism is as innocent as the wind-driven snow. But let him explain it without asserting that Newt is attacking the free market.

It’s also entirely possible that if Romney’s opponents among Republican candidates don’t quit what they’re doing, Romney won’t have to worry about facing Obama because Romney won’t be the Republican nominee. Of course, if that happens, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth among Republican party fixtures.

I would be as happy to see that as I would be to witness a Lincoln-Douglas debate between Newt Gingrich and President Obama.

New Hamphire Is History; Now What?


It concerns me that Romney could win the nomination with a plurality and yet with actual support well below 50%. I’m skeptical about a victory over Obama under these conditions.

I notice that some 77% of the entire vote in NH went to Romney-Paul-Huntsman. This suggests  that NH, which sends only a handful of delegates to the convention, is far from being even broadly conservative. This is not representative of the entire country.

So you might think that Romney, Paul, and Huntsman will not do so well in SC in less than two weeks.

But Romney’s more or less hollow victory may have a psychological effect in SC and beyond. People like to go with a perceived winner (the bandwagon effect). And Romney, I believe, is about to get very clever. So far, he’s been extremely careful not to appear too Conservative, and this has served him well.His immediate concern has been to court NH voters. With SC looming, I predict that he’ll begin to portray himself more overtly as much more conservative than people now think. Newt needs to be watching for this and pounce on it as further evidence of “pious baloney.”

Pundits were saying tonight that Newt’s rebound strategy for the past few days has backfired on him. I don’t think that, and I hope Newt doesn’t either. It’s silly to see a causal connection in the correlation between Newt’s low support in NH and his recent more vigorous response to Romney. Possibly, the pundits who represent the “establishment” are worried that Newt will continue to apply the pressure and thus mitigate Romney’s chances of winning in SC.

Romney delivered a great speech tonight. But close examination suggests that he is another cynical politician. The victory had only just been won and he was immediately starting to use Reagan-speak (i.e. “a city on a hill,” etc.). His strategy will be to try to convince conservatives that he’s a safe bet. So watch for him to roll out all the buzzwords and themes that resonate with true conservatives.

If Romney wins the nomination, and it very much looks tonight like it’s his to lose, it will be a sign that the Tea Party has lost traction, just when it needs to be boiling. Such a grassroots movement is very hard to sustain without a prominent leader beating the drums. So far, the movement’s most prominent spokesperson has held back. But look for Sarah Palin to back a candidate as we get closer to SC. It won’t be Romney. My hope is that she is conversing with SC state senators and representatives and persuading them to back a particular anti-Romney candidate. And I still hope that’s Gingrich.

Newt needs a string of strong sponsors whose support would (1) signal the continuing viability of an anti-Romney effort, and, crucially, (2) consolidate support for a single candidate who needs those votes. That candidate needs to be Gingrich.

I don’t know if any of the candidates will be able to beat Obama, but I have grave misgivings about Romney’s chances. Garnering a mere 37% showing in NH, of all places, indicates a real lack of enthusiasm. As it was, they’re saying that voter turnout was surprisingly low tonight. If we don’t have a candidate that people can get excited about, Obama will get a second term, and this could look more like a mandate than the last election!

I think we need to roll the dice for the only candidate who will keep things exciting and shake things up. I still think Gingrich is Obama’s biggest election worry. The president is probably feeling more confident as Romney’s cache expands. He can see that it isn’t expanding with support from an enthusiastic majority.

Why Newt Gingrich Probably Still Is the Candidate with the Most to Offer Conservatives


Conservatives at this hour need to be asking themselves two questions:

  1. Why has Mitt Romney been stuck with Republican support in the low 20 percent range for, like, forever?
  2. Why has every candidate who has threatened Mitt Romney lost traction within a few weeks of gaining momentum?

Finding the right answer to these inter-linked questions is like shooting fish in a barrel. It has two parts, one for each question:

First, the “Republican establishment inside the Beltway” wants Romney. Second, true conservatives—those of us planted firmly at the grassroots of the recent Great American Conservative Movement—do not want Romney. What puts officious conservatives at odds with real conservatives in this equation is something that both know: Mitt Romney is not a conservative. The strongest evidence that Romney is not a true conservative, and is therefore a poor choice for ousting Obama, is that he is stuck with low numbers in polls among registered Republicans.

But here’s the secret that “establishment Republicans” and all the liberals themselves do not want conservatives to sort out before it’s too late: Mitt Romney can win the nomination with puny poll numbers as long as conservative support continues to be spread out over several conservative candidates. Add up the collective support for conservative candidates and Romney’s numbers don’t mean zilch.

So conservatives need to wise up, and they need to get with it soon. In Iowa, this means the next few days—five days, if you want to be exact.

Here’s what needs to happen:

One of the conservative Republican candidates needs to be swarmed with support by the conservative base. This candidate needs to have the full complement of tools to take the fight to Obama and the liberal left. The candidate has to be perceived as a serious threat to the establishment. The candidate must be able to tip the scales decisively as a bold, articulate, well-informed, and scrappy individual whose own policies are as far apart from Obama’s as you can imagine.

Who disagrees? That’s what I thought.

Next question: Who might that be?

This isn’t rocket science.

We can dispense with Ron Paul immediately. A vote for Ron Paul is a vote for Obama. Period. I wouldn’t be surprised if the alleged Ron Paul supporters would vote for Obama in the general election if Ron Paul himself won the Republican nomination!

Who’s next? Consider Rick Perry. He’s trying to come from so far behind, and for good reason, that he should give it up and go home now.

That other guy, the former governor from Utah—you know, what’s-his-name. He hasn’t experienced the slingshot effect at all throughout this process, and he isn’t going to, either. So count him out. And I mean, count him out by not voting for him in your caucus or your primary. (This is offered in the spirit of a helpful suggestion.)

We come, then, to two look-alikes (as far as politics are concerned): Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum. Now these are two candidates who represent a lot for conservatives to like. And until Santorum’s “sort-of surge” in Iowa polls, he and Bachman have run similar numbers in the polls. They both know that they need a strong showing in Iowa. In other words, they have to come out as the big surprise in Iowa so that the rest of the nation will sit up and give them a second look. The trouble for them is, only one of them can do this or the strategy fails . . . decisively. And at this moment in time, a critical moment at that, it looks like it’s Santorum who has the wind at his back. But that’s if we’re comparing him with Bachman.

I like Michelle Bachman. I was impressed with her first appearance in the debates, and I thought she acquitted herself well most of the time. Sure, she’ll stand up to Obama. But it won’t look like much of a threat, I’m afraid. And it’s kind of embarrassing to hear her saying these days that she wants to be “the Iron Lady of the United States,” comparing herself to Margaret Thatcher (who was a great partner with Reagan on the international stage in the 1980s). As determined as she is, Bachman just doesn’t have the gravitas to run the gauntlet and win. (At one time I thought she might make a good vice presidential candidate, but now I’m not so sure.)

I predict that Michelle Bachman will be out of the running soon after Iowa. In light of the urgent need for consolidation behind a conservative candidate, opposite Romney, it would make sense for her to step out gracefully now. She doesn’t really show any inclination to do that, so it will be up to Iowans, even those who like her, to help her make this vital decision.

At this point, this would probably consolidate votes around Rick Santorum. Rumor has it that some leading evangelicals in Iowa have urged one of the two candidates to step away from the fray. They apparently—and correctly—perceive the threat the two of them pose to a sound defeat of Romney in their state caucus.

Santorum might not benefit as much from a Bachman withdrawal if she declared her support for someone else, like Newt Gingrich, for example. How much this would help Gingrich is hard to say. And whether Bachman could back away from her severe criticism of Gingrich in recent days and throw her support with him is doubtful. Newt will have to fend for himself, I’m afraid.

And so we come to Newt Gingrich. If it comes down to Rick vs. Newt for grassroots conservatives, what happens?

Here’s something to chew on, slowly and methodically: Rick has never garnered high poll numbers at the national level. Notice, his “surge” is limited to Iowa. This is probably because of his single-minded calculation to woo Iowans, in hopes of emerging as the Republican surprise that he needs to be to gain any traction. Newt, on the other hand, recently enjoyed a fantastic surge in national support. This was matched in Iowa.

And it looked very promising for him. But what happened? The Republican establishment rose up in concerted, presumptuous, and mean-spirited opposition, thus revealing their latent affection for Romney.

(Suppose Rick Santorum comes out on top or in a dead heat with Romney in Iowa less than a week from now. Will this be a significant threat to Romney? I don’t think so. Where does Santorum go next? New Hampshire would be the lock for Romney that everyone is already predicting anyway. And what kind of organizatin does Santorum have in the South? An Iowa victory would be small consolation if it doesn’t ignite national support as the new “anti-Romney” candidate. And I don’t see how it would. Santorum is tenacious, a decent debater, and truly conservative. But this doesn’t keep Obama awake at night worrying that he might have to run against Santorum. Santorum lacks that special panache that will be needed to knock Obama out.)

Let’s get back to Gingrich. Fellow conservatives, let us ask, Why have we neglected him at such a time as this?

I truly hope that if Newt does not win united support among conservatives it will be because of their wisdom in such matters. But there is the very real possibility that it will come down to being manipulated by the power-brokers in Washington and on network and cable TV.

There are two obvious reasons for Newt’s recent dip in the polls. First, he has been savaged by pontificating “conservatives” of the Republican establishment (for example, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and, more local to my area in Southern California, Hugh Hewitt). Second, the other conservative candidates, smelling blood and needing desperately to improve their own standing in the polls, have blasted Newt for being less than truly conservative.

Michelle Bachman, especially, has stooped to disappointing depths in this regard. Her grip on the full breadth of conservative policy has always seemed ham-handed, but her recent and opportunistic attacks on Gingrich have made this obvious. She has decried his claims to be a conservative, and rehearsed contrived allegations without reserve or grace. I suspect has she hoped, by this means, to steal for herself support from a weakened Gingrich. And this recent lifting of the veil to show that even she can be less than candid and fair has made me more sure that she should not be given further encouragement in her bid for the presidency. Frankly, I believe she may have spoiled any chances she had even to be invited to be the vice presidential running mate. (I remember being impressed very early on that Newt Gingrich liked and supported Michelle, and wanted to see her do well. I recall thinking that he might even then have been thinking that she could be good running mate material. Not any more, I’d say now. I invite you to go back and review the early debates.)

By now you’ll know that I give Newt Gingrich the best chances of beating Romney for the nomination and for beating Obama in the general election. Of the true conservatives still in the running, he is the only truly Reaganesque one of the bunch. Conservatives need to remember how much they would like to have Reagan back. That’s not possible. He was one of a kind, and what a kind he was! But he imprinted some few who still carry the DNA. And Newt Gingrich is one of them. Mitt Romney surely is not. And Rick Santorum and Michalle Bachman, for all of their virtues (and they are considerable), just aren’t the Reagan-types of our era.

We need to face another serious obstacle to shoring up support for the single best conservative candidate to ruin Romney’s nomination prospects. Among grassroots conservatives, evangelicals carry considerable electoral weight. And evangelicals, for perfectly intelligible reasons, have gravitated toward candidates who are more overtly in line with their theological convictions. (Many speculate that this, too, is a reason why Romney has not done well among evangelicals. But I think that reasons for conservative evangelical reluctance about a Romney presidency are more complicated than this.) On this score, Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum are the more pleasing candidates for some evangelicals. Both are quite public and transparent about their Christian faith, and Bachman identifies very explicitly with evangelicalism. But it has to be said: This is not a sufficient reason to cast a vote for Santorum or Bachman. In fact, this may even be a reason for evangelicals to withhold support.

Let me explain.

Suppose an evangelical wins the presidency. Would that be cause for rejoicing among evangelicals? Not necessarily. For starters, Jimmy Carter bellowed his evangelical pedigree and got himself supported. Consider how that turned out. He is the most disgraced former president alive today. Other reasons are more to the point, however.

First, evangelicals owe their fellow citizens fair consideration in the effort to work together toward the common good as a pluralistic society. Constituency voting is, on a certain level, shameful. Though we owe our Christian forebears a great debt for bequething to us a legacy of democracy and associated values, this did not make us a “Christian nation” in some theocratic sense.

Second, evangelicals, of all people, should be able to distinguish between society’s spiritual and religious problems and society’s political problems. And they should know better than to think that the very real religious and spiritual problems of our society would be healed by concentrating political power in the hands of evangelicals. (I have lived and work among fellow evangelicals my entire life, and I shudder to think what kind of society ours would be if power was to be consolidated in their hands.)

This brings me to a third consideration. If the Christian church seeks to impose its will on the American public by electing political leaders on the grounds that they are the true saints of the world, then the Church will one day (and once again) be embarrassed by the inevitable failures and spotty track records of those presumed saints. Better to elect a good and decent person, with a stout sense of America’s special standing in the world and her Constitutional groundedness, than to insist on someone with more limited political skills whose decency we associate with our own religious convictions.

I have often thought—indeed, I trembled at the thought even during the last election cycle—that an Obama victory based on constituent support might prove an embarrassment to the constituents who supported him, without regard for his political expertise or sensibilities as a human being. I trust that some who voted for Obama for no better reason than this do now regret doing so and will be more circumspect on this next go around.

It’s very possible that we who are evangelicals have been the slowest to wake up to current political realities, and that we stand in the way of a successful campaign against Obama. Let us be rid of any vain hope that a political fix for all of America’s problems depends on electing one like ourselves in every respect possible. That is a foolish ambition. It is one of which we should repent, before God himself.

Let us, instead, use the wisdom we have been given by God—feeble though we are to steward this wisdom faithfully—to cast our political support for the one we truly believe, all things considered, can bring the change many of us believe is desirable and possible.

I suggest that this calculation must take into consideration the need for a broad conservative movement in this country to consolidate around a single worthy candidate, who will no doubt be flawed like the rest of us, and to reawaken to the peculiar privilege it is for serious Christians to live in a democratic Republic.

Evangelical Support for Newt Gingrich/Early December 2011

Suggested Reading:

“Newt Gingrich strong with Iowa evangelicals, Tea Partiers” (December 6, 2011)

Updates:

• Wintery Knight has started an interesting Facebook thread discussing this post. Click here.

Newt Gingrich vs. “The Republican Establishment”


Less then ten days ago, Newt Gingirich offered another zinger in the pre-holiday debate among Republican candidates for the presidency. He noted the need to do something to constrain the excesses of arrogant activist judges and he presented a concrete strategy for doing so. He said, “If judges are so radically anti-american that they thought One Nation Under God was wrong, then they shouldn’t be on the court.” In this he was referring to a specific recent court ruling that many Republicans agree was nerdy and over-reaching. Newt has proposed various measures for enforcement of judicial responsibility in relation to the other two branches of government. In certain cases, judges should be compelled to explain their rulings before Congress or risk impeachment.

Newt has been pummeled with criticism from the so-called “Republican Establishment,” a possibly self-marginalizing cadre of naysayers who now must prove that Newt is unelectable by doing everything in their power to make sure that he isn’t elected. Charles Krauthammer appears to be one such critic. From his comfortable perch as a Fox News regular, he has denounced Newt’s proposal and has suggested that Newt probably couldn’t win the election next November.

So far, no one I can think of has effectively countered Newt’s actual argument supporting the viability of his idea. During the recent debate, Newt, who is a historian, noted, for example, that in 1802, Thomas Jefferson abolished 18 of 35 judges. Megyn Kelly, a panelist asking questions of the candidates parried, saying, “Something that was highly criticized.” And Newt replied, “Not by anybody in power in 1802,” and then extended the history lesson by pointing out that Lincoln repudiated the Dred Scott decision in his first inaugural address of 1861.

On Sunday, Bob Schieffer, on “Face the Nation,” invited Newt to explain his position. For Newt’s answer, click here.

I would like to hear a fuller explanation of Newt’s notion, and a more complete response to it. Mitt Romney won’t debate Newt before Iowa. So here’s an idea for Newt to consider: Challenge Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Karl Rove, Michael Mukasey—or any other of the conservative advocates mocking your proposal—to a debate or public discussion about the issue of judicial activism, the need for constraints, and your plan for putting restraints in place. Clearly, you’re a man of bold new ideas. As far as I know, a direct challenge to debate some TV talking head wielding disproportionate influence among the electorate, or a former Republican Attorney General, like Mukasey, is unprecedented. Maybe it’s time.

For Newt’s detailed position on reigning in activist judges, click here.

I invite comments, and I especially welcome answers to any of these questions:

1. Is there a problem in the United States with “activist judges”?

2. What are the strengths of Newt’s plan for addressing this problem?

3. What are the weaknesses of Newt’s plan for addressing this problem?

4. Would you like to see a public debate or conversation between Newt Gingrich and members of the Republican establishment who object to his plan?

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