Friday, 27 January 2012

Why Newt is scary...

It's been an interesting few days in US politics (and apologies for Washminster's absence - a mixture of a trip to Norfolk; parties in Northampton; family visits to my home - and filing returns to the taxman!). With the Florida primary a few days away - some who want a Republican victory in November's presidential election have been panicked by the thought that Newt Gingrich might be gathering enough momentum to seize the nomination. So what are they worried about?

Newt is a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Significantly he was the FIRST Republican Speaker for 40 years (Trivia Question - who was the previous Republican Speaker? - I will publish the answer just after 5am GMT tomorrow morning). That amazing victory owed much to the work of Newt. He changed the mindset - and the tactics of House Republicans. So why are many Republicans so ungrateful?

David Frum wrote this week "It's striking that almost none of Gingrich's former colleagues in the House has endorsed him for president. Striking that nobody associated with a past Republican presidential association has done so. He is a candidate of talk-show hosts and local activists -- and of course of Rick Perry and Sarah Palin -- but not of those who know him best and have worked with him most closely. Gingrich may raise more money after his South Carolina win. But prediction: Romney will raise even more, among the great national network of Republicans who recognize that to nominate Gingrich is to commit party suicide."
I have to admit that I think Newt is brilliant - he has an understanding (partly academic - but also an amazing instinctive feel) for what works in MASS seduction. He has learned & deploys all the tricks and techniques to motivate and mobilise people for his agenda. A word of warning - admiring someone for their brillance is NOT the same as endorsing that person or finding his actions at all acceptable. I am also in awe of Hitler for a similarly high level of brillance in the same area. I wholly reject his philosophy and his actions. [by the way today is Holocaust Memorial Day]

Anyone interested in political communication should study Newt - and citizens need to protect themselves by studying the techniques he uses. He puts a lot of emphasis on the use of language - his memo to Republican candidates (the 1996 GOPAC) on Language as a key mechanism of control is very important.
It can be read here. His use of C-SPAN (unwitting collaborators) to frame viewers impressions of Congress and his opponents was masterful. As Newt himself is reported to have said "My ability to organize and orchestrate things would be vastly greater than a normal politician."-- (CBN News). Gingrich understands (and many politicians don't) that you can't persuade everyone to love you. Gingrich will never win the support of committed lerals and progressives. He has his "targets" and seeks to mobilise them.
Jon Meacham wrote this week in an article 'Why Newt is Like Nixon' "The analogous elements are obvious. Like Nixon, Gingrich is smart, with a wide-ranging and entrepreneurial mind. Like Nixon, Gingrich is a striver who seems insecure around traditional establishment figures even though he has achieved much more than nearly all of the politicians, editors and reporters he seems to at once loathe and fear. Like Nixon, Gingrich is fluent in the vernacular of cultural populism, brilliantly casting contemporary American life in terms of an overarching conflict between 'real' people and distant 'elites' bent on the destruction of all that is good and noble about the United States."

As Frum highlighted, the fear amongst some Republicans is that he could win the nomination - and while he has a strong following - he also will provoke an angry reaction. Like Goldwater (1964) and McGovern (1972) the party may suffer a humiliating loss in the Presidential election. Worse still for the Republicans, his candidacy could sink GOP congressional candidates - Bob Dole (Republican Presidential Candidate in 1996) issued a statement this week saying - "I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway." He added: "In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand -- that was a symbol of some sort for him -- and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I'm not certain he knew either."

So should supporters of Obama be backing Gingrich in Florida? A few months ago no one thought he could ever be the most popular candidate amongst Republican voters (A Gallup tracking poll this week shows Gingrich six points ahead on the rest of the Republican field!) - is Newt clever enough to win a national race? (remember his achievement in the 1994 congressional elections).


Bradley said...

Fascinating piece David - I have read several articles this week comparing Gingrich to Nixon in various ways. Although I admit to being a conservative who would prefer a Republican in the White House, I too can not stand the prospect of Gingrich securing the GOP nomination.

Elizabeth Grant said...

I like your astute analysis of Gingrich. The two elements which stand out most are the 'lack of love' that exists amongst his fellow Republicans due in part because the 'Gingrich Revolution' was double edged generating change but also resentment at the aggressive divisiveness many felt directly adversely affected civility in Congress. Interesting to note that whilst Senator for New York Hillary Clinton was the complete opposite when it came to garnering and supporting friends in Congress and Senate.

The second element is that Gingrich is deeply embedded in the American Right and his links with the Christian Right are strong. He will not need to court them as much as GW Bush had to get the second term he wanted.

Were Gingrich to beat Mitt Romney to the Republican Presidential nomination (he won't be able to out-spend M.R and Newt's personal life is a juicey target)and apply his formidable rhetoric to attacking Obama I think he stands some chance not least because he is good at sensing his audience. I say this with great trepidation and fear for the American people. In some respects the comparison with Nixon is a red-herring. I think LBJ as an operator within Congress is a better comparison although of course political opposites. I would agree that Gingrich by all indications has such a massive ego that he has probably already rehearsed his Inaugration speech. His stance on Iran is hawkish and rather 'old school' which bodes badly were he to become President.

Why do I say he stands a chance? It is because in contrast to President Obama Newt Gingrich has the capacity to project passion more effectively. His use of language appears no less intellectual in content and appeals to a type of bullish American exceptionalism. I sincerely hope he does not win the nomination primarliy because this could take the US one more step towards being an intolerant theocratic society.