Gingrich and his “campaign on ideas”

Newt Gingrich’s assertion that he and his consultants had a “strategic difference” over the colour and the shape of his Presidential campaign called to mind a slogan from years gone by: “In your heart, you know he’s right.”

Gingrich’s stated goal is admirable: a campaign based on ideas and “solutions” rather than… well, rather than whatever it is that campaigns are based on.  Depending on whose chatter you believe, his consultants felt that the campaign should have been more oriented toward grassroots retail politics that feature the candidate spending lots of time in Iowa, attending campaign events, and engaging in the type of retail politics that end with him asking voters for their support.

There’s a reason that many consultants like that approach: it leads to victories, and consultants are paid to win.  When Gingrich reached the apex of his power in 1995, the “consultant mindset” on political races was very different: political pros were high on television ads, which were expensive and profitable.  Especially in the last ten years, there has been a better appreciation of the grassroots ground game – starting with Democratic efforts in 2000 and cemented into the DNA of both parties by the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign.

For Gingrich to criticize the “consultant culture” now is less powerful than it would have been 15 years ago.

Ideas cannot survive without tactics which convey those ideas to the voters; tactics that reach the voters without ideas will not win elections.  The two sides represent a ying and yang of campaign politics that Gingrich appears ready to ignore.

In 1964, supporters of Barry Goldwater understood that their candidate had all the right ideas.  The fact that we was defeated so soundly led many to realize that isn’t enough to win an elections.

Elections are fought for ideas, not with ideas.  Gingrich’s words and the campaign exodus suggest he is pursuing the latter.  If his actions match his words over the next few months, he might as well not even participate in the Republican primary.

Newt Gingrich, defined

Friend of the Program Matt Lewis posted seven easy steps to follow if you’d like to talk like Newt Gingrich yesterday.  Here’s one that might be Number Eight: Allow others to define the conversation for you.

The latest news cycle on all things Gingrich revolved around his “rocky” entry into the Presidential race – which was “rocky” because of comments he made on policy ideas devised and proposed by others.

This isn’t the first time a Gingrich campaign has suffered a rough start.  Heck, this isn’t even the first time this year a Gingrich campaign has suffered a rough start – the same round of stories were written two months ago, when campaign subordinates couldn’t figure out whether or not Gingrich was actually officially “testing the waters.”

Even Gingrich’s campaign slogan – “Winning the Future Together” – was a phrase he used first, but which has been claimed for 2012 by the incumbent he hopes to defeat.

For another candidate, this might just be a run of bad luck.  Gingrich, on the other hand, has a track record of letting issues define him rather than getting out front and defining issues.  In fact, he has a 15-year track record, stretching back to the days when his Republican Revolutionaries of 1994 got their lunches eaten by Bill Clinton during the budget battles of 1995.

Gingrich has apologized to Paul Ryan and underscored his opposition to forcing people to buy health insurance.  Maybe his comments on both were misunderstood.  He’s still a bad candidate because he has to keep answering these distracting questions – and it’s his inability to drive messages that lead to these questions being asked in the first place.

Newt announces (with theme music by Mike Post)

If Newt Gingrich is trying to frame himself as the anti-Palin – intelligent and thoughtful rather than populist and excitable – this video does the trick.  Mustering all the enthusiasm one would expect from a commercial for reverse mortgages, Gingrich cites his two decades of experience, taking special care to drop the name of GOP saint Ronald Reagan.

This video looks like Newt and Co. were so enamored with the medium of YouTube that they forgot to make a video that was actually compelling.  The talking head presentation featuring no one but Gingrich is simply boring.  With the GOP primary field so often described as “crowded,” this is not the way to stand out.

The GOP Primary Presents: “Answering For Santino” Week

The three front runners for the Republican nomination each have baggage, and since last week we’ve seen their strategies for dealing with it.  Tim Pawlenty is very sorry about signing a cap-and-trade bill while he governed Minnesota; Mitt Romney has some ‘splainin’ to do to get people to quit using the word “Romneycare”; and Newt Gingrich… well, Newt’s got kind of a Cee Lo Green thing going on with his previous support for aggressive environmental action:

“I’d do a commercial with Al Gore,” Gingrich said last May in an interview with the website Human Events. “My point is conservatives ought to be prepared to stand on the same stage and offer a conservative solution.”

Pawlenty’s strategy is probably the best for now (pending Romney’s speech).  It is, appropriately enough, safe and genuine, but Gingrich is at least sort of right, too.  This line of messaging does help to further the idea that he is the Thinking Republican’s Candidate to a degree.  But the audience shouldn’t be conservatives (at least, not quite so obviously).

The past five years are absolutely full of examples of grassroots activists demonstrating that they don’t like to be lectured to.  There was Marco Rubio besting Charlie Crist in Republican primary polls (and eventually the general election), Joe Miller over Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul over Trey Grayson in Kentucky’s Senate race.  If you feel like going back farther and crossing the aisle, ask Joe Lieberman how rank and file Democrats felt about him in 2006.

You don’t like being lectured to.  Do you hear me?  You don’t like it.  (You do, however, appreciate irony, I hope.)

The point is, that instead of scolding conservatives that they should be stewards of the environment, Gingrich should be more inclusive.  Consider how his second sentence above would sound with a slightly different perspective:

“My point is that we can stand on the same stage and offer better, more creative solutions that will protect our environment without putting people out of work.”

Wouldn’t that make you feel a little bit better about being on the same side as Gingrich – as if you’re both part of the same winning team?

Like Newt himself, this is better in theory

My Tuesday post at Pundit League this week (which was actually a Thursday post due to my own fault) discusses the mockery that is the system of campaign finance laws, and how Presidential candidates are often candidates long before they run.  One example of a such a candidate is Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, who flubbed his announcement-that-there-will-be-an-announcement-about-an-announcement last week, isn’t officially running yet, but has decided that his campaign will commence at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

No one can argue with the symbolism of the locale.  If Pennsylvania is a blue state, then it is the Philly region that makes it so; yet the middle-class voters of the region are a key demographic for Republican victory nationally.  And of course, standing in front of the building where the Constitution and Declaration of Independence is priceless.  (Mitt Romney probably wishes he had thought of it first.)

And when the folks in this region come together… well, that’s when the fun starts.  Sarah Palin got booed dropping the puck at a Flyers game; Santa Claus got booed by Eagles fans.  Phillies fans whip D cell batteries at players so fiercely you’d think they’re auditioning to pitch the seventh inning.

And that’s just sports.  Don’t forget about the omnipresent unions and occasional voter intimidation tactics.  Does Gingrich really want to stand in front of a crowd of Philadelphians to announce his candidacy?

On the plus side, if Elton John played at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding, maybe he’ll perform for Newt’s kickoff too: