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December 12th, 2011

Gingrich Needs More Than Just Strong Debate Performances

In Saturday night’s ABC New debate, Newt Gingrich showed how he is different from the other candidates who have briefly surged to the top of the polls.  Unlike Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, Gingrich is well equipped to handle the pressure that comes with being the frontrunner.  Gingrich may lack a fully developed campaign team in early states like Iowa, but his decades in the national spotlight have made him a seasoned debater and a candidate who will unapologetically defend himself.

As the newly ordained Iowa and national frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Gingrich not only defended himself well from the attacks of others, but he didn’t change the style in which he debates now that he finds himself in the lead.  In fact, Gingrich showed that other candidates might want to be careful when attacking him.

When Mitt Romney attacked Gingrich for being a career politician, Gingrich quickly found himself on defense after he reminded the audience that the only reason Romney isn’t a career politician is because Romney didn’t win his U.S. Senate race in 1994.   Keeping that sort of sharp edge against his opponents is what helped him reinvigorate his campaign in the first place.  It is now important for him to remain aggressive in the remaining debates.

Even though Gingrich was able to defend himself from all of the attacks and criticism that came his way, his success in the ABC News debate, while important, does not get him any closer to sealing the deal in Iowa.  From the start of the campaign, we all expected Gingrich to do well in the debates.  And while he has not disappointed in that regard, the issues on which he is currently being criticized are all issues that give conservative voters pause.

Gingrich is having the kitchen sink thrown at him, and while the gang-tackle makes sense with the caucuses just being weeks away, the various candidates and organizations that are attacking him are also willing to do so because they know these are issues that will move voters because they have hurt him earlier in the contest.

After Gingrich called congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal “right-wing social engineering” on Meet the Press, Gingrich saw any momentum his campaign may have had at the time evaporate. Consumer Research poll that was conducted in late June not only found that Gingrich had lost support, but also that 28 percent of likely caucus goers would “definitely not” vote for him, a full ten points higher than Sarah Palin, who18 percent said that would definitely not support.  The survey also found that 48 percent of those polled had a positive impression of the Ryan budget, while only 10 percent held a negative view.

Gingrich’s harsh attitude towards the Ryan budget is only one small item for which he has come under attack.  He’s also been criticized for his personal failings.  Gingrich is also under fire for his pervious support of TARP and an individual heath insurance mandate, not to mention his weak stance on issues like illegal immigration, gun rights, and abortion.  All of these are major issues in a caucus campaign.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that his opponents see opportunity in attacking him.

Gingrich might have defended himself well on the debate stage, but it may not ultimately matter.  The barrage of ads that are running against him will make an impact on the race.  His Republican candidates don’t necessarily need to beat him up when they seem him in person on the debate stage since they are spending millions of dollars beating him up on television.  While Gingrich’s fundraising has undoubtedly picked up as of late, it will be nearly impossible for him to be able to counter every negative attack that is out there.

The best way for Gingrich to defend himself in advance of the caucuses is to aggressively campaign in Iowa.  There is no better way to deal with a slew of negative ads being run against you than standing in front of Iowans and taking these issues head on.  There is no doubt that Gingrich is skilled enough to do it, the question is whether or not he is disciplined enough to do it.

One might think that if you are in the lead at this point in the campaign,  it might be wise to limit Gingrich’s exposure.  In fact the opposite is true.  This is no time for Gingrich to take his foot off of the accelerator.  He would be wise to get out there and talk to as many Iowans as possible.

A few quick thoughts on other candidates.

Michele Bachmann:  I agree with those who think she is a good debater, but her pandering to the Herman Cain supporters was a little much.   Caucus politics are never about endorsements or sucking up to another candidate’s supporters.  Instead it’s a personal connection that she needs to make if she wants be successful in Iowa.

Ron Paul:  I think Saturday’s debate was good for him, but what’s even better is the size of his crowds.  Paul is dangerous right now because his passionate supporters can taste victory.  His dedicated followers are going to work even harder knowing that they really have a chance at winning Iowa.

Rick Perry: Perry had good debate and has now embarked on a whirlwind tour of Iowa.  For the first time in months, you can see signs of life.  The only problem is that they may have waited too long to aggressively campaign in Iowa. Perry might be a fourth quarter player, but I think it’s safe to say he’s so far down that winning might take a miracle.

Mitt Romney:  Everyone can now begin to see how dangerous Romney’s strategy to haphazardly campaign in Iowa has been to his campaign.  Romney was a stronger candidate six months ago than he is today, less than three weeks from the caucuses.  That’s a big problem.  While he is lucky to have not been vetted like Gingrich is currently being vetted, it seems that the idea of Romney being the Republican ideal is something most conservatives simply reject.

Rick Santorum:  Santorum didn’t get his break out moment in the ABC News debate.  Still, Santorum has showed signs of momentum as of late and will have ample opportunities to continue to separate himself, as the social conservative Iowans should rally around.  The Huckabee forum on Wednesday might be more important to his campaign than any of these debates.


Photo by Dave Davidson


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About the Author

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country.

Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.

A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states.

Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site,

Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing.

Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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