How Gingrich can win without any votes


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Newt Gingrich is winning.

No, the former House speaker isn't going to be the next president. I doubt he'll even get on the ballot. But Gingrich has started to shape the race more than any other Iowa caucus contender.

At last month's GOP debate in Ames, Gingrich had a heated exchange with debate moderator Chris Wallace. Asked a question about Gingrich's campaign staffers jumping ship, the GOP-nomination candidate shot back with a ravaging critique of the mainstream media's political coverage.

"I intend to run on ideas … I'd love to see the rest of tonight's debate asking us about what we would do to lead in America, whose president has failed to lead, instead of playing Mickey Mouse games," Gingrich said.

Wallace defended his question: "Speaker Gingrich, if you think questions about your records are Mickey Mouse, I'm sorry. I think those are questions many people want to hear answers to, and you're responsible for your record, sir."

Gingrich shot back, delivering perhaps the best caucus-season media critique of the year.

"I think that there's too much attention paid by the press corps about the campaign minutia and not enough paid by the press corps about the basic ideas that distinguish us from Barack Obama," he said from the Ames stage.

Then last week at an MSNBC debate in California, Gingrich went after a Politico moderator for trying to start beef between the GOP hopefuls over health-care mandates.

"I'm frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other," Gingrich told moderator John Harris. "You want to puff this up into some giant thing. The fact is, every person up here understands Obamacare is a disaster … I for one, and I hope all of my friends up here, are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated."

And Gingrich's criticism worked.

While it's hard to quantify or demonstrate objectively, the one national debate since Gingrich versus Wallace and Gingrich versus Harris has been more substantive. This week's CNN debate at the Florida State Fairgrounds, for instance, delved into immigration, executive-order breadth, and Social Security viability. More than in any debate so far, the candidates strayed from prepackaged talking points and moderators asked very few "Mickey Mouse" questions.

Even the follow-up coverage of the debate has been better than earlier in the caucus season. There are fewer headlines about who looked or sounded better and more issues-based coverage — things about what rights the president has when it comes to executive orders and whether Social Security is viable.

It's hard to suppose Gingrich's fights with debate moderators didn't coax other journalists into refocusing their reporting resources on the issues.

The problem with the kind of debating Gingrich decries is twofold: First, focusing on horse-race items like campaign strategy distracts from issues that deserve discussion. Second, mainstream media's questions often lend themselves to polished sound bite answers, and the candidate who speaks most eloquently — not the candidate who has the best ideas — wins recognition.

The media-dubbed top-tier candidates are also shaping the race but in a much less meaningful way. Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry all shape the race because blemishes on their records become hot topics on cable news. The difference is that Gingrich is shaping the race according to his own priorities, while the way the other candidates shape the race is more or less out of their hands.

Additionally, Gingrich's criticism has the ability to stir some lasting changes instead of the flavor-of-the-week shifts the Bachmann and Perry campaigns stir. If the mainstream media continue to heed Gingrich's criticism, we might well see a meaningful shift in political journalism.

In today's issue:

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.