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 scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
Ever since it was first published in 1982, readers—including this one—have thrilled to “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard’s masterpiece of literary nonfiction, which describes her personal experience of a solar eclipse in Washington State. It first appeared in Dillard’s landmark collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and was recently republished in The Abundance, a new anthology of her work. The Atlantic is pleased to offer the essay in full, here, until the day after the ‘Great American Eclipse’ on August 21.
It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering. We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place—a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. The eclipse we had traveled here to see would occur early in the next morning.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The country’s exceptionally thin safety net prompts residents—especially those with less-steady employment—to view partnership in more economic terms.
Over the last several decades, the proportion of Americans who get married has greatly diminished—a development known as well to those who lament marriage’s decline as those who take issue with it as an institution. But a development that’s much newer is that the demographic now leading the shift away from tradition is Americans without college degrees—who just a few decades ago were much more likely to be married by the age of 30 than college graduates were.
Today, though, just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree; in the 1970s, there was barely a difference. The marriage gap for men has changed less over the years, but there the trend lines have flipped too: Twenty-five percent of men with high-school degrees or less education have never married, compared to 23 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees and 14 percent of those with advanced degrees. Meanwhile, divorce rates have continued to rise among the less educated, while staying more or less steady for college graduates in recent decades.
Jen Hatmaker says the “days of silence are over” in polite evangelical culture.
By her own estimation, Jen Hatmaker is “low-grade Christian famous.” She has written 12 books, starred in an HGTV series with her family, built a large social-media following, and gone on tour with other prominent female Christian writers.
In some circles, Hatmaker is also controversial. Last fall, she told the writer Jonathan Merritt she thinks LGBT relationships can be holy. LifeWay, a large Christian retailer, pulled her books from their stores. Some of her followers were “angry or shocked or confused,” she said, and her interview set off a round of debate on the authority of evangelical women in ministry. This spring, Hatmaker wrote on her blog that she has “[become] painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine.”
Empty pedestals can offer the same lessons about racism and war that the statues do.
Six years before it would become the inspiration for bloody protests, the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia, was vandalized. The 2011 incident capped off my 11-year residency in the small city—where I’d taught high-school history and where my understanding of the legacy of the Civil War was nurtured. There was no better place to teach the Civil War than Charlottesville. Some of the most important battlefields in Richmond, Fredericksburg, and the Shenandoah Valley are within an hour’s drive. But it was the region’s monuments that played a central role in my teaching, and I believed they should be left alone.
I argued my position in an essay for The Atlantic: “For better or for worse, monuments to Confederate heroes are part of our story, but each of us can choose how to engage with these places. We can express outrage over their existence. We can alter them with statements of our own. Or we can let them be, appreciate their aesthetic qualities, and reflect carefully on their history.” I fell short on understanding what they still meant to some in the community. I didn’t realize that so many of my neighbors didn’t need further reflection at all.
The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.
The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.
Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.
The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
Participants in a “free speech” rally in Boston say they aren’t white nationalists, but claim there is a “war against whites” in America.
WOBURN, Mass. — Kyle Chapman was sitting in a dimly lit Irish pub about 20 minutes outside of Boston, where Saturday afternoon’s so-called “Free Speech Rally” had just been shut down by tens of thousands of counter-protesters.
“The white man is one of the most discriminated against people in this entire country right now,” he explained.
Chapman—a muscly right-wing organizer who went viral earlier this year after video footage showed him swinging a heavy wooden stick at liberal Berkley demonstrators—had been scheduled to speak at the rally on Boston Common. But organizers ended up pulling the plug early, he said, when the crowd of counter-protesters grew too large. After being escorted to safety by police, he and other attendees retired here to lick their (metaphorical) wounds.
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history.
When did America become untethered from reality?
I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.
How men and women digest differently, diet changes our skin, and gluten remains mysterious: A forward-thinking gastroenterologist on eating one's way to "gutbliss"
Robynne Chutkan, MD, is an integrative gastroenterologist and founder of the Digestive Center for Women, just outside of Washington, D.C. She trained at Columbia University and is on faculty at Georgetown, but her approach to practicing medicine and understanding disease is more holistic than many specialists with academic backgrounds. She has also appeared on The Dr. Oz Show (of which I’ve been openly skeptical in the past, because of Oz’s tendency to divorce his recommendations from evidence).