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."
The most personally moving, and most fundamentally patriotic, moment of the Democratic National Convention was the appearance by the bereaved parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan, and the statement about the meaning of their son’s life and death, and about the Constitution, by Mr. Khizr Khan.
After Khizr Khan spoke, politicians and commentators on most networks said they were moved, humbled, inspired, choked up. (Commentators on Fox did not say these things, because their coverage cut away from the Khans for Brit Hume and Megyn Kelly, plus a Benghazi ad.)
How the election looks to backers of the Republican nominee
Perhaps the hardest thing to do in contemporary American politics is to imagine how the world looks from the other side. I’ve made no secret of why, as a Republican, I oppose Donald Trump and what he stands for. But I’ve also been talking to his supporters and advisors, trying to understand how they see and hear the same things that I do, and draw such very different conclusions. What follows isn’t a transcription—it’s a synthesis of the conversations I’ve had, and the insights I’ve gleaned, presented in the voice of an imagined Trump supporter.
“You people in the Acela corridor aren’t getting it. Again. You think Donald Trump is screwing up because he keeps saying things that you find offensive or off-the-wall. But he’s not talking to you. You’re not his audience, you never were, and you never will be. He’s playing this game in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen. And he’s winning too, in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen.
Not the people—the term. How generational divisions have driven down voter turnout over the last century of American politics.
Throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential election, pundits and activists have debated how to get more Millennials involved in politics, always stressing their distinctive character. But it was actually this tendency to slice up the electorate into unique generations that drove young people from politics in the first place.
In the 19th century, children, youths, and adults “mingled freely together” at rowdy campaign rallies, lured by the holy trinity of booze, barbecue, and bonfire. Older citizens introduced young people to politics, helping to drive voter turnouts to their highest levels in U.S. history. “It’s the ‘big fellow,’” observed the Republicans canvassing in pool halls and saloons in the 1880s, who does the best job getting “the ‘little fellow”’ into politics.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Last night, in her overall very successful acceptance speech, Hillary Clinton said with ruthless precision about her opponent:
Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?
Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.
He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.
Emphasis added, as it was in her delivery:
Imagine—if you dare, imagine—imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.
I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride.
A collection of books recommended by The Atlantic’s editors and writers
The Atlantic’s editors and writers share their recommendations for summer reading—new titles, old favorites, and others in between.
By Yaa Gyasi
In her first novel, Yaa Gyasi cleverly weaves the intergenerational tale of a family through a series of short, but interrelated stories set in what’s now Ghana during the mid-18th century. The two women at the center of the novel, Effia and Esi, are half-sisters who wind up on vastly different paths. One is captured during a battle between tribes, sold, and winds up on a slave ship bound for the U.S. The other—separated from her village and married off to a British slaver—ends up living on top of the dungeons that hold her own kin and hundreds of others who would also become slaves. The novel traces the lineage of these women through the tales of their children, and their children’s children, and so on—up until the present day.
Last month, my wife and I found ourselves in a disagreement about whether or not our apartment was clean enough for guests—the type of medium-sized disagreement that likely plagues all close relationships. In the midst of it, there was a lull and, feeling exhausted all of a sudden, I got up and left the living room. In the bedroom, I immediately fell face down into the sheets. The next thing I knew it was 20 minutes later and my wife was shaking me awake. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep; I just felt so fatigued in that moment that there was nothing else I could do.
This wasn’t new for me. A few weeks earlier, I had come into conflict with an acquaintance over some money. We were exchanging tense emails while I was at my office, and I began to feel the slow oozing onset of sleep, the same tiredness that came on when, as a child, I rode in the backseat of the car on the way home from some undesired trip. A sleepiness that overtakes the body slowly but surely and feels entirely outside of your control.
Learning how to bond with my daughter, who found comfort in the familiarity of being alone, has come through understanding reactive attachment disorder.
My hands hover over the computer keyboard. They are trembling. I hold down the shift key and type the words with intention, saying each letter aloud: “R-e-a-c-t-i-v-e A-t-t-a-c-h-m-e-n-t D-i-s-o-r-d-e-r.” The words “reactive attachment disorder” are memory beads I gather into a pile and attempt to string along on a necklace.
I think back to when Judith, my neighbor who is a psychiatrist, offhandedly threw out the term the first time she met Julia. We were talking about babies who start their lives in orphanages, and she mentioned the disorder. She wasn't suggesting that my daughter Julia showed any signs, but she’d said it was a well-known problem with children who’d been adopted from Romanian orphanages in the '80s and '90s. I remember nodding my head and thinking, Shut up, Judith. We got Julia young. It shouldn't be an issue.
The World Well-Being Project uses Facebook updates to correlate language with personality traits.
Do our Facebook posts reflect our true personalities? Incrementally, probably not. But in aggregate, the things we say on social media paint a fairly accurate portrait of our inner selves. A team of University of Pennsylvania scientists is using Facebook status updates to find commonalities in the words used by different ages, genders, and even psyches.
“Governments have an increased interest in measuring not just economic outcomes but other aspects of well-being,” said Andrew Schwartz, a UPenn computer scientist who works on the project. “But it's very difficult to study well-being at a large scale. It costs a lot of money to administer surveys to see how people are doing in certain areas. Social media can help with that.”
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.