Many voters seem persuaded that the resurgent GOP candidate would be a better nominee than Mitt Romney, but experts aren't so sure.
Lately, Newt Gingrich devotes a substantial portion of his stump speech to arguing that he would be the best general-election candidate to beat President Obama among the GOP contenders. Voters appear to be buying it: in Saturday's South Carolina primary, Gingrich won a staggering 51 percent of voters who told exit pollsters their top priority was being able to beat Obama -- and that was the largest group of voters, at 45 percent.
What's Gingrich's argument? It has a few prongs. First, he says he would overpower Obama in debates, humiliating him and exposing him as a fraud. Second, he says his conservative views would provide voters with a strong contrast with the incumbent, giving those dissatisfied with Obama a true alternative rather than a near-equivalent, as he paints Romney. Finally, Gingrich argues his big ideas and sweeping oratory would allow him to make inroads with non-traditional Republican voters such as minorities and the poor.
The persuasiveness of these arguments is largely emotional, but some of it can be evaluated. We bounced it off a couple of political scientists -- exactly the sort of know-it-all, America-destroying elites Gingrich has so much contempt for.
1. Gingrich will win the election by winning the debates.
"As the nominee, I will challenge the president to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition. I will concede up front that he can use a teleprompter if he wants to. ... Here's why I think he'll end up doing it. Psychologically, how does he get up in the morning and look in the mirror -- Columbia graduate, Harvard Law graduate, editor of the Harvard Law Review, finest orator in the Democratic Party -- and say to himself, 'I'm afraid to debate this guy who taught at West Georgia College?' .... In my acceptance speech, I will announce that the White House will be my scheduler. Wherever the president goes I will show up four hours later. With modern 24-hour news cycles...I don't think it will take many weeks of me methodically rebutting his speeches." -- Newt Gingrich, town hall in Beaufort, S.C., Jan. 19, 2012
Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College: "Debates happen very late in the campaign and generally do not change the outcome. In general, their importance is overstated. It's extremely implausible we will have seven three-hour debates. I expect we will have three debates in the standard formats. This is a highly structured process negotiated between the media and two risk-averse campaign staffs. We have no idea how Gingrich would manage a general-election campaign, but in the past, candidates have been relatively cautious.... Gingrich has been supposedly winning debates in front of partisan Republican audiences. That's not the same thing as a general election, where people won't necessarily be cheering those red-meat lines."
2. Gingrich will win the election by presenting a stronger contrast with Obama than Romney.
"I think we need a candidate who's far apart from [Obama]. I
can't imagine a debate between Romneycare and Obamacare. They'd be too close
together, it would make no sense at all. But I can imagine a debate between
freedom, independence, you and your doctor, versus the bureaucrat in Washington
telling you what to do. That debate we will win decisively." -- Newt Gingrich, town hall in Easley, S.C., Jan. 18, 2012
Alan Abramowitz, Emory University: "While it's true that motivating the base and getting strong turnout of the base is important, and Newt Gingrich might be better than Mitt Romney when it comes to energizing the conservative base, overall it's a dubious argument. Gingrich doesn't appeal very much to independents or Democrats. The Republican base isn't large enough to win the general election by itself -- in order to win a general election you need to appeal to the swing voters and make inroads among Democrats. The way he's campaigning is not going to appeal to them. He's a very polarizing figure who would also energize the Democratic base to come out against him."
Verdict: Not likely.
3. Gingrich will win the election by campaigning to non-traditional Republican audiences and converting them with his positive vision, like Reagan did.
"I believe we can go into every neighborhood in America, of every background, and say to people, 'Would you rather your children had dependence with food stamps on the government or independence with a paycheck from a job?' And I believe we will win that argument everywhere, and I think we can set up a campaign this fall of extraordinary proportions by bringing the country together. I don't want to run a Republican campaign. I want to run an American campaign." -- Gingrich, Easley, Jan. 18
"In 1980, when Ronald Reagan started the year about 30 points behind Jimmy Carter and when the Republican establishment described his economic ideas as "voodoo economics," Reagan just cheerfully went out and won the debate, won the nomination, and won the general election carrying more states than Roosevelt carried against Herbert Hoover. I would suggest that a solid conservative who believes in economic growth through lower taxes and less regulation, who believes in an American energy program, who believes in a strong national defense, and who has the courage to stand up to the Washington establishment, may make the Washington establishment uncomfortable, but is also exactly the kind of bold, tough leader the American people want, they're not sending somebody to Washington to manage the decay. They're sending somebody to Washington to change it, and that requires somebody who's prepared to be controversial when necessary." -- Gingrich, GOP debate in Tampa, Fla., Jan. 23, 2012
Abramowitz: "This election is going to be decided in about a dozen states by swing voters in those states. Reagan's election had very little to do with his speaking ability or his personality. It had everything to do with the fact that Jimmy Carter was very unpopular. His approval rating was in the low 30s. Obama's approval rating is 12 to 15 points higher. Unless his approval collapses and the economy deteriorates, I don't think this is going to be like 1980."
Verdict: Nice try.
4. Michele Bachmann bonus argument: Obama will lose no matter whom we nominate.
"Anderson, the good news is, the cake is baked. Barack Obama will be a one-term president; there's no question about that. Now the question is, we need to listen to Ronald Reagan who said no pastels, bold colors. I am the most different candidate from Barack Obama than anyone on this stage. We can't settle in this race." -- Michele Bachmann, GOP debate, Las Vegas, Oct. 18, 2011
Abramowitz: "When an incumbent president is running for re-election, the election is mostly a referendum on the president. The challenger only makes a difference at the margins, and we're talking about a pretty small difference."
Nyhan: "The effect of ideology tends to be overstated relative to the state of the economy. But that's based on a data set that doesn't have a Bachmann- or Gingrich-style candidate. Assuming you nominate a normal, generic Republican, the fundamentals predict a closer race. Romney is more or less a generic Republican candidate. In a bad economy, that's enough. But we haven't seen the parties nominate someone like Bachmann or Gingrich."
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
New data shows that students whose parents make less money pursue more “useful” subjects, such as math or physics.
In 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, in which he laid out his plans for what his children and grandchildren would devote their lives to. Having himself taken the time to master “Politicks and War,” two revolutionary necessities, Adams hoped his children would go into disciplines that promoted nation-building, such as “mathematicks,” “navigation,” and “commerce.” His plan was that in turn, those practical subjects would give his children’s children room “to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.”
Two-hundred and thirty-five years later, this progression—“from warriors to dilettantes,” in the words of the literary scholar Geoffrey Galt Harpham—plays out much as Adams hoped it would: Once financial concerns have been covered by their parents, children have more latitude to study less pragmatic things in school. Kim Weeden, a sociologist at Cornell, looked at National Center for Education Statistics data for me after I asked her about this phenomenon, and her analysis revealed that, yes, the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward “useful” majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.
Most adults can’t remember much of what happened to them before age 3 or so. What happens to the memories formed in those earliest years?
My first memory is of the day my brother was born: November 14, 1991. I can remember my father driving my grandparents and me over to the hospital in Highland Park, Illinois, that night to see my newborn brother. I can remember being taken to my mother’s hospital room, and going to gaze upon my only sibling in his bedside cot. But mostly, I remember what was on the television. It was the final two minutes of a Thomas the Tank Engine episode. I can even remember the precise story: “Percy Takes the Plunge,” which feels appropriate, given that I too was about to recklessly throw myself into the adventure of being a big brother.
In sentimental moments, I’m tempted to say my brother’s birth is my first memory because it was the first thing in my life worth remembering. There could be a sliver of truth to that: Research into the formation and retention of our earliest memories suggests that people’s memories often begin with significant personal events, and the birth of a sibling is a textbook example. But it was also good timing. Most people’s first memories date to when they were about 3.5 years old, and that was my age, almost to the day, when my brother was born.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
Gentrification is pushing long-term residents out of urban neighborhoods. Can collective land ownership keep prices down permanently?
AUSTIN, Tex.—Not long ago, inner cities were riddled with crime and blight and affluent white residents high-tailed it to the suburbs, seeking better schools, safer streets, and, in some cases, fewer minority neighbors.
But today, as affluent white residents return to center cities, people who have lived there for years are finding they can’t afford to stay.
Take the case of the capital city of Texas, where parts of East Austin, right next to downtown, are in the process of becoming whiter, and hip restaurants, coffee shops, and even a barcatering to bicyclists are opening. Much of Austin’s minority population, meanwhile, is priced out, and so they’re moving to far-out suburbs such as Pflugerville and Round Rock, where rents are affordable and commutes are long.
The unwillingness of the former secretary of state to take questions from the press contrasts sharply with Jeb Bush’s marked affinity for public disclosure.
Howard Kurtz reported on Sunday night that the Hillary Clinton campaign has decided to open itself to more press interviews. Kurtz quoted the campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri: “By not doing national interviews until now, Palmieri concedes, ‘we’re sacrificing the coverage. We’re paying a price for it.’”
Meanwhile Jeb Bush chatted July 2 with the conservative website, the Daily Caller. The Daily Caller interview broke an unusually protracted no-interview period for Bush. It had been more than two weeks since he appeared on the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon. Bush spoke that same day, June 17, to Sean Hannity’s radio show and ABC News. Five days earlier, he’d spoken to Germany’s Der Spiegel—altogether, five interviews in the month of June. That brought his total, since the beginning of February, to 39, according to the Bush campaign.*
Chicago has seen a double-digit increase in the percentage of kids graduating from high school. Skeptics say educators and kids are manipulating the numbers—but does that even matter?
Desiree Cintron’s name used to come up a lot during “kid talk,” a weekly meeting at Chicago’s North-Grand High School at which teachers mull over a short list of freshmen in trouble.
No shock there, says Desiree now, nearly three years later.
“I was gangbanging and fighting a lot,” she says, describing her first few months of high school. “I didn’t care about school. No one cared, so I didn’t care.”
Had Desiree continued to fail in her freshman year, she would have dropped out. She is sure of that. It was only because of a strong program of academic and social supports put together by her teachers that she stuck it out. Desiree pulled up a failing grade and several Ds. She gave up gangbanging and later started playing softball. She connected with a school determined to connect with her.