Unlike Texas Governor Rick Perry, it’s easy to understand why Newt Gingrich is still in the Republican nomination fight. Even though Gingrich has finished behind Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul in both Iowa and New Hampshire, his poll numbers in South Carolina and Florida have remained strong. If you combine that with his ability to shine in the debates like he did the other night, there are plenty of positive signs for the Gingrich campaign.
What is more difficult to figure out is the message that Gingrich is pushing in South Carolina. In one respect, his message is clear, he claims to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. The only problem is that this is what every candidate other than Romney is saying. Outside of telling people that Romney is a “Massachusetts moderate” and he is a “Reagan Conservative,” Gingrich hasn’t been pushing much of an agenda as he campaigns in South Carolina.
Gingrich received rave reviews for his performance in Monday night’s Fox News debate in South Carolina. However, Gingrich didn’t do anything in that debate to advance his argument that he is a better conservative alternative than Rick Santorum. Gingrich scored points for once again getting tough with a debate moderator, not for taking on Mitt Romney.
Gingrich has spent the last two weeks trying to make the argument that he is the best suited to take on Romney and ultimately President Obama. Yet, the only time he really landed a blow on Romney is when he said that if Romney can’t influence his Super PAC to stop running misleading ads, he probably wouldn’t be influential as President of the United States.
Other than that one-liner, Gingrich scored points by highlighting Ron Paul’s ignorance on issues of foreign policy, just like every other candidate has done in earlier debates. He took on Juan Williams over the issue of food stamps, and the crowd ate it up, but it’s an applause line that he’s used for months now. Crowd approval is great, but it also benefited Romney because it limited the opportunities his opponents had to attack him.
Gingrich also did nothing to support his claim that he is the conservative alternative to Romney. What conservative principle did Gingrich promote in the debate? The answer is none. Did he talk about social issues? No. Did he talk about the importance of the traditional family structure? No. Did he advocate for smaller, more efficient government? Not really.
His plea for immediate personal social security accounts would actually add to the national debt. On the issue of unemployment benefits, Gingrich basically advocated for adding a new entitlement program when he stated that training component added to existing unemployment benefits.
For the past two weeks, Gingrich spent most of his time either attacking Romney’s business dealings while at Bain Capital, defending his attacks on Romney, or stubbornly and brazenly refusing to admit that some of his attacks on Bain might not be accurate or that this whole line of attack was a really bad idea. The only other message coming from his campaign is the irrational and arrogant assertion that his conservative opponents, some of whom have received far more votes than he did in Iowa and New Hampshire, should get of the race.
Gingrich and his campaign aides have even spent time talking about the incident from 20 years ago when Romney put the family’s Irish setter in a kennel on the roof of the car much for a 12 hour ride to Canada, much to the dog’s dismay. Is this the message that the conservative alternative in the race should be pushing?
In the last two weeks, Gingrich has come off looking more like an attack dog than the standard bearer for conservatives. A conservative standard bearer should be advocating for conservative issues, but instead of talking about entitlement reform, tax reform and national defense, Gingrich is calling his opponents “losers,” spending time talking about Romney’s old dog named Seamus, and attacking venture capitalists.
It’s easy to understand the attacks on Romney. He’s in the lead and Gingrich is desperate for a win. Even with that scenario, it doesn’t give Gingrich or any other candidate a license to stop advocating for issues and participate in the politics of mutually assured destruction. Conservatives win when the focus is on the issues we care deeply about. For two weeks now, it seems like Gingrich has made the decision to insist that he’s the Reagan conservative, but in doing so, has forgotten to actually advocate for any conservative issues.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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