What candidate is witty and smart and experienced enough to expose as a lie the narrative that President Obama is an eloquent orator? Who can reveal him to be a phony intellectual entirely dependent on a TelePrompter? This question is what has pushed some Republican voters into the arms of Newt Gingrich, or, as The New York Times' Ross Douthat puts it, Newton Gingrich, Ph.D. There are several candidates who've tried out for the role, only to be discarded. Macho Texan Rick Perry had to explicitly reassure voters several times this fall that he'd be just fine debating Obama, but it appears conservative they didn't believe him. Tim Pawlenty revealed himself to be too soft in debates, failing to use his term "Obamneycare" against Mitt Romney because he had just too much stuff going on in his head. Herman Cain, charismatic and good with catch phrases, looked like "a man who was terrified of the questions he was being asked and was hoping to be noticed as little as possible," RedState's Leon H. Wolf complained. That leaves Gingrich, who, as The New Yorker's Hendrick Hertzberg writes, in 1990 taught his fellow House Republicans how to win over the public using certain words against Democrats, like "betray," "bizarre," "anti-flag," "anti-family," "radical," and "sick."
The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis writes that Gingrich backers don't just want to see conservative principles explained in an articulate way --"I think this urge is deeper than a desire to simply watch him beat up or attack the president rhetorically — they also want him to intellectually flatten him — to out-debate him." Douthat says it's revenge for years of being pegged as the dummy party. And just as Democrats thought they could take down war president George W. Bush with war hero John Kerry, Republicans think they can boot eloquent orator Obama with Gingrich, an orator who's even more eloquenter. But that's a fantasy, Douthat says, as the few times debates have mattered at all in presidential elections, it's because of quips like "where's the beef?" not wordy takedowns of the opposition's ideology.
Further, independents who Republicans need to win over probably won't be watching the debates anyway, Jonathan Bernstein writes. It's mostly partisans that watch the debates, and they're more likely to think their guy won -- and have that message reinforced by the partisan press. Gingrich might say the things conservatives want to hear, the Spectator's Alex Massie writes, but the time to nominate a guy like that is in an election you're sure to lose, like in 1984 or 1964. "Newt isn't Kerry, he's Howard Dean."
Strangely, The Economist writes, the debates Gingrich is proposing -- Lincoln-Douglas style, which would mean a 1-hour speech by Candidate A, followed by a 90-minute speech from Candidate B, then 30 more minutes from Candidate A -- would be far more likely to help Obama than Gingrich. Obama is known for being good at scripted speeches, while Gingrich is known for his zingers. The Lincoln-Douglas style format doesn't give anyone much opportunity for zingers.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.