December 10, 2011

Newt and the Media: A Curious Marriage

Keach Hagey, of Politico, has written an eye-opening article about Newt Gingrich’s symbiotic relationship and history with the media. The article focuses primarily on Newt’s success in utilizing C-SPAN to advance his political pursuits but also extends to his general handling of the media:

“He has proven himself to be a very good debater in these presidential contests,” said Bob Walker, the former congressman who was one of Gingrich’s early comrades-in-arms and today advises Gingrich’s campaign. “I think at least part of it would go back to the days when he was debating on the House floor.”

Gingrich’s astute use of C-SPAN to project an energized and combative conservative caucus engaged in challenging the dominant Democratic majority – with him as its dynamic leader – showed an understanding of the political power of television and of messaging that was revolutionary for its day.

The cable network gave Gingrich both the conduit to reach a generation of conservative activists and a laboratory for figuring out how to dominate the news cycle — skills he has relied on in his debate performances this year and which will be crucial Saturday when Gingrich faces what’s likely to be a newly combative Mitt Romney at the ABC News/Des Moines Register debate in Iowa.

Behind his “elite media” bombast is a canny student of how to directly reach voters.

…But once he was speaker, Gingrich’s appetite for the kind of radical openness C-SPAN represented began to wane. Democrats accused him of “pulling up the ladder” that got him to where he was, and he rebuffed C-SPAN’s pleas for more access, as have the speakers that came after him.

But Gingrich’s appetite for media attention had not been curbed at all. As Ben Jones, the former “Dukes of Hazzard” star and Democratic congressman who ran against Gingrich in 1994 put it, “The most dangerous place in Washington, D.C .was to be standing between Newt Gingrich and a television camera. That’s probably been used by others at other times, but I said it first.”

That it has been used at so many other times to describe so many other lawmakers – it was being applied to Phil Gramm, then a Republican senator, back in 1994 when Jones was using it – is a testament to how fundamental the media is to wielding power in Washington. Gingrich was simply better at it than most.

“He understood that, if you compromised, there was no market value in that, in terms of going on television,” Clift said. “If you were bombastic and controversial, you were much more likely to be invited back.”

This information has numerous applications to the battle for the GOP nomination. While Newt’s detractors frequently point out his shortcomings and weaknesses – and, in all honesty, he has plenty – you can make the argument that Newt’s ability to massage and work the media to his advantage bears more relevance to the office of the President than do Romney’s undeniable skills as an executive and administrator. After all, the role of the President involves persuading, articulating, and influencing much more than, say, micromanaging the vast federal bureaucracy.

As many people have asserted recently and in years past, people tend to view as most effective the presidents with supreme powers of persuasion – Reagan, Lincoln, Kennedy, Truman, and both Roosevelts, to name a few – rather than those who governed more as administrators-in-chief – Bush 41, Ford, Carter, and Eisenhower for example.

I’m sure this will prompt much heated discussion and debate between the pro- and anti-Romney forces, but in the interests of intellectual honesty and the constraints of modern political reality, we ought to consider it.

by @ 2:32 pm. Filed under 2012 Misc., Newt Gingrich, R4'12 Essential Reads, Republican Party
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57 Responses to “Newt and the Media: A Curious Marriage”

  1. Massachusetts Conservative Says:

    Anthony Dalke

    You don’t think Mitt had a serious power of persuasion as governor of 85% Democrat Massachusetts?

  2. Matthew Kilburn Says:

    …or more importantly, you think a smooth talker who can charm the media is more important than a competent executive?

    Just vote for Obama then, the MSM will always run a CYA for him.

  3. Anthony Dalke Says:

    Mass Con,

    Governors have much more unilateral power over their governments and budgets than presidents.

    Plus, if Mitt had superior powers of persuasion, he would have won over more of the Republican electorate by now.

  4. Anthony Dalke Says:

    Sigh…

    I wish Rombots would understand that condescension and ridicule won’t help win people over to their side.

  5. CraigS Says:

    Deleted – off topic

  6. Anthony Dalke Says:

    So, I guess we can just write off Reagan as a smooth talker who can charm the media?

  7. Massachusetts Conservative Says:

    6

    Reagan’s power of persuasion actually had real consequences in CA as governor.

    With Newt as speaker, we got a government shutdown that led to Clinton’s reelection.

  8. Andrew Ryan Says:

    4. If you let someones supporters keep you from embracing a candidate then I’m sorry, you’re just not a critical thinker.

  9. agitator Says:

    Obama is a smooth talker, a persuader. Hitler was as well! We don’t need a smooth talker, someone who can propogandize through media influence. We need a competent leader who can actually get things done to turn this ship of state around. Romney is that guy!

  10. Spenza Says:

    #3 How about that Mitt got elected with that percentage of Democrats?

  11. Anthony Dalke Says:

    8,

    When did I explicitly support any candidate in this post? I merely raised a topic for consideration.

  12. Boomer Says:

    A lot people seem to forget the person at the center of Newt’s ethics complaints was Robert Murcoch and the shady book deal he gave Newt. This was also the beginning of the end of Speaker Newt as he seemed more intent on promoting his book tour than being Speaker.

    He still has strong ties to Murdoch which helps explain his “skill” at getting FOX to push his candidacy. Not so hard to do when the boss is in your pocket.

  13. Andrew Ryan Says:

    Deleted – insulting to author

  14. Boomer Says:

    3.

    >>I wish Rombots would understand that condescension and ridicule won’t help win people over to their side.

    Yes, I’ve heard this complaint before. It seems you have no such advice for the not Romneys who have one nothing but condescend and speak derisively about Romney and his supporters since the beginning of this election.

    Funny that.

    Oh, and in case irony is not your strong suit, Rombots is term that is both condescending and derisive.

  15. teledude Says:

    Mittwitts are in a panic mode!

    Someone has hit the hive with a stick and they are swarming around wildly stinging anything they land on.

    Kinda funny to watch.

    Yes, Newt has better leadership skills than Mitt.

    It is self evident.

    Newt is not the problem.

    Mitt is the problem

    So…oh never mind!

  16. Teemu Says:

    That is actually example of how Newt Gingrich has adopted bad habits, that a Representative can afford, but presidential candidate can’t. Also bomb throwing will make easier to demagogue the reforms needed, as WSJ notes in it’s article’s last paragraph.

    The Newtitlement State – On Medicare, Mitt Romney has the bolder, better reform.
    “The contradictions of Mr. Gingrich’s entitlement plan reveal part of his political character, which is that his policies often don’t match the high-decibel, sometimes grandiose nature of his rhetoric. This can make it easier for his opponents to stigmatize his policies as more radical than they really are because Mr. Gingrich tells everyone they’re radical. He might achieve more if he spoke more softly and carried a bigger stick.”

  17. Anthony Dalke Says:

    14,

    Then maybe we should remind the Romney supporters who now use it as a term of endearment? I don’t think it has had a strictly negative connotation for at least a couple years.

  18. Dr J Says:

    Good post. The thing that still perplexes me, is if Gingrich is such a great communicator why folks latched onto him so late in the game. It seems to me that it is mass hysteria that is driving this, not any real attachment to the candidate, whoever that happens to be at the moment. I’m beginning to think that it is all psychological noise and that the Gingrich surge is just another fad. The other candidates need to ride this out and not drop out prematurely as Pawlenty did.

    Romney’s suppport has been solid. You don’t see huge waves of rising and ebbing support. That means his supporters are pretty stable. On the other hand you have the mob who flocks to whatever candidate their leaders (whoever they may be ) tell them to flock to. These are poor lost souls who have a hard time making up their minds. I think it most likely that in the heat of the battle, they will fly in several different directions rather than unite.

  19. Boomer Says:

    17.

    In your world maybe. A bot implies a mindless robot acting strictly as programed. I would suggest that Romney supporters know their candidate better than the supporters of just about any candidate and have not been flipping from one to the next as the current hot thing self-destructs.

    If you don’t believe look at the spectacle of the anybody but Romney crowd supporting a candidate with a far more problematic record with far greater apostasies and crowning him the True Conservative simply because he’s not Mitt Romney. This is a guy, they argue, who everyone knows intimately and yet he was polling in the single digits up until the last real threat to Romney, Cain, imploded due not only to his bimbo eruptions but also because he apparently had no clue about, well, anything, but 9-9-9. So why is he the True Conservative hero now? Everyone knows why.

    If any group is acting like mindless bots its the not Romneys. Bot is not viewed as a term of endearment by any Romney supporter I’ve ever met.

  20. Ci2Eye Says:

    I always thought Reagan’s training as an actor and radio announcer served him well. Not only had he learned how to communicate and persuade but he knew his best side photogenically, he knew how to look into the camera, he knew how to recite his lines, he spoke with appropriate cadence and empathy and he knew how to stand and ‘act’ him a President.

    I’m not suggesting it was all an act; it wasn’t but he knew how the things he did would play on TV and how to evoke the desired reaction from the viewers/voters.

  21. Anthony Dalke Says:

    For fear of this thread devolving into the sadly now-standard Rombot-Romnot bickering, let me reaffirm that I wrote this not to argue for Gingrich but to raise a valid topic for intellectual discussion.

  22. Teemu Says:

    Gingrich is a good partisan communicator, just like Pelosi is a good partisan and fund raiser. But both of them would make terrible presidential candidates, they both have adopted a style and said things that really don’t attract the middle.

  23. PabloZed Says:

    “The thing that still perplexes me, is if Gingrich is such a great communicator why folks latched onto him so late in the game. It seems to me that it is mass hysteria that is driving this, not any real attachment to the candidate.”

    You are wrong. Gingrich’s rise in the polls is directly attributable to his debate performances. I took note a couple debates ago and in the last debate I thought he owned it. The decline of the other candidates is relevant only to the extent that voters were still looking for someone who spoke to their needs and desires and they gave Gingrich a second look. But make no mistake, Romney had a shot at most of these voters. But he failed to persuade them. In particular, he failed to persuade them on Romneycare.

  24. Bob Hovic Says:

    Anthony: Good post, Gingrich clearly has outstanding communications skills. It is unfortunate that Romney, who has other skills as you note, lacks these. If he had the ability to connect with people he would be far out front right now.

    And thanks for fighting the good fight for common-sense, down-the-middle posts. Unfortunately, with a portion of the Rombot world, any post or comment (or person) that is not explicitly and unreservedly pro-Romney is anti-Romney.

    The slightest criticism of Mitt or the slightest praise (even if hedged, as yours clearly was) of anyone else, marks you as an enemy.

  25. Smack1968 Says:

    Anthony Dalke,

    I do understand where you were going with the FPP. I remember the times Newt was on the House floor speaking into the cameras of CSPAN while no other Congressmen/woman were around. It was great to watch for a political junkie. I do think Newt got caught up in the CSPAN cameras and forgot to talk to his members at times.

    I think Newt needs to keep trying to show some disipline in these debates and interviews…and Mitt needs to turn on the “vision” stuff. I also remember voters camplaining about GHB lack of VISION in 1988…it might not have been fair, but perception becomes reality. GHB overcame the Vision stuff with a single statement…..”A kinder and gentle nation”. In other words, GHB told the GOP voters that he would continue the Reagan Revolution but step off the gas some what….which I didn’t like personally, but it was a VISION.

    Mitt needs to work on his VISION…create a short Mission Statement.

    Newt needs to convince us of a more displine excuitive disposition…and he is trying to do that in how he runs his positive campaign.

    IMO.

  26. aspire Says:

    The result of 1 year of Gingrich was an electorate that thought he was extreme, out of touch and scary.

    In a CNN-Time poll, 66 percent of respondents said Gingrich was “too extreme,” 52 percent said he was “out of touch” and 49 percent said he was “scary.”

    With his speakership ending in his own party ousting him.

  27. Jonathan Says:

    Good post Anthony. I think part of Gingrich’s communication strength is that he is widely considered as one of it no the smartest guy in the room. Particularly with a history background he can make a lot of allusions to past events that can be grasped by people. Whether it’s an appropriate analogy or not (like comparing HHS Secretary Sebelius to Stalin). Red-meat and historical allusion together make for a potent combination, one that Newt has mastered over the years.

  28. Craig for Newt & Marco Says:

    Great post, Anthony!

    As always you hit the nail on the head and the final one in Willard’s coffin.

    Newt is both, the Great Communicator and the Great Pursuader rolled into one leader.

    Willard, not even in the same league.

    Therefore, the wife and I are flying out to cold dreary Iowa from sunny southern Cali to help Newt persuade on Monday all the way through to caucus evening!!! We will contact in person the same folks who helped us last time in the Huckaboom.

    While we’re gone, hope EVERYONE here at Race42012 has a merry Christmas and a happy New Year :)

  29. Irish Right Says:

    In the list of reasons why I can’t support Gingrich (and the list is legion) I had forgotten until a couple of days ago that Gingrich pulled the original “Palin” (outdoing her poor sequel by a mile). How can anyone expect that a politician who quits on their constituents a full one day after he was re-elected is worthy of their trust. Frankly, he could be the second coming of George Washington and that single issue would queer the deal for me.

    Newt is an excellent communicator ond idea man. He deserves to have input into the new Republican White House. He just isn’t the one to put his name on the mailbox. He can’t be trusted.

  30. Smack1968 Says:

    Craig For Huck,

    Thank you sir.

    Safe trip.

    Bring home a Newt victory, and give your wife a SMACKDADDY peck on the cheek for my thanks.

    :)

  31. MarqueG Says:

    Jonathan sez:

    Particularly with a history background he can make a lot of allusions to past events

    Now that I think about it, his speechifying is peopled entirely by world historical heroes and villains. Their struggles are the stuff of world historical events. But when he talks about his countrymen here and now, it’s as if he’s talking about abstract, faceless entities who are insignificant extras in the larger drama. He seems to hobnob exclusively with the historical figures. At least in his own mind.

  32. aspire Says:

    I’m surprised by how many people in the media like saying how smart Gingrich is, he throws out historical tidbits and people think he’s brilliant. I don’t see it. I think a lot of his ideas are not well thought out. I think he likes to jump on what he thinks is going to be the next big thing, but often is a big dud.

  33. Smack1968 Says:

    MarqueG,

    That is exactly how Ronald Reagan political opponents in 1979 descriped him.

    Thanks for comment in 31#

    Newt 2012, more now than ever.

  34. Jonathan Says:

    #31:

    Part of Newt’s problem is that since he is a historian (in my opinion, if you’ve got a degree in History, you’re a historian) and that he is not burdened with modesty, he starts making ridiculous comparisons. Reagan, Churchill, Thatcher, Kemp, Lincoln, all of them have had the privilege of being compared to Newt Gingrich by Newt Gingrich.

    If there’s one singular thing that will sink Newt, it’ll be his overly muscular ego.

  35. Teemu Says:

    “Newt is both, the Great Communicator and the Great Pursuader rolled into one leader.”

    He is that for just a segment of people, just like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin are for some people, and Nancy Pelosi is for San Francisco fundraising crowds.

    You don’t get this kind of numbers if you are great communicator for majority of people:
    “In a CNN-Time poll, 66 percent of respondents said Gingrich was “too extreme,” 52 percent said he was “out of touch” and 49 percent said he was “scary.””

    Romney’s problem is that his speech and communication style is acceptable for majority of people, but that takes some of the edge of it when you can’t go bomb throwing.

  36. aspire Says:

    This is Newt on the Jewish Channel:

    Well, I believe that the Jewish people have the right to have a state, and I believe that the commitments that were made at a time…remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940’s, and I think it’s tragic.

    Now Newt’s saying he’s for a Palestinian state. Pandering?

  37. MarqueG Says:

    Anthony, there are many ways to persuade, and being controversial is one. Unfortunately, as I remember vaguely from Newt’s speakership, being controversial generally insults your opponents and offends them to the point that you can no longer persuade them. You wind up multiplying your opponents and getting them fired up against you personally, while not convincing them that your ideas are worth consideration. Gingrich turned off reachable folks who might have agreed with him.

    That’s not a winning formula for governing the country.

  38. rightgal Says:

    15. We are only in ‘panic mode’ because the so called ‘values voters’ have forgottent their values (if they truly had them in the first place). We are about to give Obama 4 more years with Newt. I don’t know what you all are trying to do to our country, but you know, nominating someone as flawed as Newt Gingrich is not helping it, at all.

  39. Right Wingnut Says:

    7,

    Clinton shut down the government by vetoing Newt’s budget.

  40. SixMom Says:

    #38 That’s what I see coming too. The media will happily be sweet on him and give him a pass, just like McCain.

  41. SixMom Says:

    *sweet on him FOR NOW

  42. Right Wingnut Says:

    40,

    Not true. The media has been in full “pile on” mode over the past few days.

  43. Teemu Says:

    39:
    The government shutdown is great example of Newt’s communication skills. A great communicator wouldn’t give a comment like Newt Gingrich did, basically confession that you made the stopgap-spending bill knowingly unacceptable to Clinton, because you were offended by Air Force One seating arrangements.

  44. aspire Says:

    42 They’re on him today because of his “invented people” gaffe. He then followed that up by saying he’s for a Palestinian state. So he’s managed to offend both sides.

    On Fox one of the ladies just called Newt erotic instead of erratic as a slip of the tongue.

  45. SixMom Says:

    #44 “Erotic”? ROFL. Trust me, not a chance.

  46. PabloZed Says:

    #44 – Huh? Israelis are for a Palestinian state. Never heard of the “two-state solution?”

  47. Massachusetts Conservative Says:

    The “invented people” “gaffe” is not a gaffe. It is red meat to the base.

    I hope none of you are expecting Romney or anyone else to go after him on that. It’s a losing proposition.

  48. Right Wingnut Says:

    47,

    Exactly. He forced the Palestinians to respond. That’s a win for Newt among the base, and with Jewish voters. This wasn’t anymore unintentional than his statements on immigration in the last debate. Newt is good at laying traps for his opponents.

  49. Massachusetts Conservative Says:

    48

    It could be intentional, maybe.

  50. PabloZed Says:

    #47-48. Indeed.

  51. The truth Says:

    Tele, says newt is the better leader. Is that why the Republicans In the house threw him out as speaker?

  52. Andrew Says:

    Interesting piece from The Weekly Standard:

    If none of the conventional wisdom is fully satisfying as an explanation for why Romney is now stuck in the mid-20s, then, perhaps a more elemental explanation will do: Voters just don’t like him very much. And they never have.

    Romney has the least-impressive electoral history of any Republican frontrunner in a very long time. Most of the politicians who chase the White House are proven vote-getters with very few electoral blemishes on their record. John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis—what unites all of these men is that before getting to the presidential level, they had demonstrated a talent for getting people to vote for them. (Barack Obama is the exception who proves the rule.)

    Over the years, Mitt Romney has faced voters in 22 contests. He won 5 of those races and lost 17 of them. (This total includes a win in the 1994 Massachusetts Republican Senate primary as well as results from the 19 primaries he participated in during 2008. It excludes caucuses because their rules make them complicated enough to be considered distinct from straight-up lever-pulling.)

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/overestimating-romney_611846.html

    I’ve been saying the same thing for a long time – the idea that Romney is somehow more “electable” than the rest of the field is not supported by past evidence.

  53. PabloZed Says:

    #52 – A lot of us have been pointing out Romney’s poor track record in getting people to vote for him, particularly in the South. Truth is, Romney was only the nominal frontrunner because Huckabee chose not to run.

  54. Bob Hovic Says:

    I commented last week on Mr. Electable’s career win-loss record. His fans seem to think 5-17 ought to get him into the Hall of Fame. Looks to me more like a ticket back to Triple-A.

  55. Teemu Says:

    Yes. Romney sucks because his state with 85% Democrat legislature didn’t do as well by some statistics as the most conservative states with 70% Republican legislature, and he sucks because he didn’t get elected or re-elected every time, like a governor of the most conservative state or Representative of a conservative district would be, yes running against the liberal icon in the most liberal state of the union is so easy…

    This actually makes him great, he hasn’t based his whole political career on bomb throwing, and he has forced to try to squeeze the best deal he can under bad circumstances, the Senate isn’t going to 60 Republican after the next election, isn’t going to be even 50 Republican if Gingrich is the nominee.

  56. Spud Says:

    If the best he can get is a large number of “fee” hikes, an “assault weapons” ban, and an individual mandate, then the best he can get from me is to not show up at the polls.

    Also, how many of the 25-30% of the Rs who are changing candidates, aka the Romnots, won’t pull the lever for him on election day if he’s nominated?

  57. Teemu Says:

    That gun legislation sounds pretty good deal considering it is Massachusetts, 85% Democrat legislature, 66.7% is enough to overwrite governor veto. Fee hikes are morally superior to let’s extra taxes on the rich on such heavily taxed state as Massachusetts since they are voluntary, and they don’t feed on the illusion that you can just free ride on the rich, non-rich revenue collection also increases responsibility, people have more incentive to keep an eye on the public employee unions. In Gallup polls strongly unvaforable among Republicans is 6% for Romney, so the HC RomNots mostly just spam internet, they are not that major factor.

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2004/06/24/state_moves_on_assault_weapons_ban/
    Fearing that Congress won’t renew the federal ban on assault weapons, state legislators voted yesterday to bar the sale of the same 19 weapons in Massachusetts, winning over gun-rights supporters by including a half-dozen provisions designed to make it easier to own legal guns in the Bay State.

    he gun-friendly provisions include a six-year gun license instead of the current four years, creation of a review board with power to restore gun licenses to people convicted of certain misdemeanors, and a 90-day grace period for expired firearm identification cards and licenses to carry.

    ”There are a lot of good things in the bill,” said Jim Wallace, legislative director of the Gun Owners Action League, the state’s leading pro-gun group. ”In all, the bill represents a healing process, or the beginning of the healing process, between lawful gun owners and the Massachusetts Legislature.”

    Wallace, of the Gun Owners Action League, said his group also opposes both federal and state bans on principle, but realizes that the compromise approved yesterday is the best he can hope for in a state where gun-control measures are especially strong.

    Senator Richard T. Moore, an Uxbridge Democrat who received an A+ rating from the Gun Owners Action League, said the bill will help lawful gun owners.

    ”There weren’t the votes to repeal it, certainly,” Moore said. ”I felt the votes were there to continue the ban, and if we’re going to continue it, we want to make sure it’s one that doesn’t seriously affect those who are willing to follow the law.”

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