Newt and the '10 PM Question'
It's 10 pm. It's Martin Luther King Day. You're in the South. A packed auditorium is deathly quiet. A large national TV audience is watching. The electoral stakes are sky-high. You are sweating on behalf of your favorite candidate. Then an African-American journalist calls your guy's name -- and asks a racially tinged "gotcha" question.
OH NO! Hit the mute button. Take a beer break. I can't bear to watch! Why do we let liberals moderate our debates?!
So it's not exactly "the 3 am phone call" from the 2008 race. No, it's scarier than that. It's the "10 pm question." And you can bet your bottom dollar it's coming to a general election debate near you. You have to know it is. So the question the Republicans need to ask themselves is this: whom do you trust to handle "the 10 pm question"?
And let's be honest. We absolutely cringe at the thought of most of our candidates -- past and present -- having to face such a scenario. We wouldn't want to hear George W. Bush stumble through that one, even with all the Karl Rove "new tone" compassionate conservatism he could muster. His dad may have handled it even worse.
We certainly wouldn't be too excited to see John McCain field it. That would probably end up with McCain reaching across the aisle and endorsing Obama on the spot. (Save your jokes -- I hear you.) We heard Jack Kemp totally flub a question not nearly this hard, in fact. Bob Dole? Dan Quayle? Yikes!
Oh, I suppose Mitt Romney would sound-bite his way through it with some Massachusetts moderation without totally blowing the campaign. But poor Rick Santorum fell prey to political correctness in a much easier moment, bringing the ghost of MLK down on himself. And Ron Paul set a new standard for Republicans sounding like Democrats on issues of race in the last two debates.
No, there's only one Republican we would like to hear answer such a question, and boy did we ever hear it Monday night in the Myrtle Beach Republican Debate.
Juan Williams -- fired from NPR because he was too Islamophobic and not Foxophobic enough -- asked the 10 pm question. He thought he had a winner. Juan's flaw, however, is that he picked such a situation to call on Newt Gingrich. He wanted Newt to flail away trying to defend some of his previous statements through the typical liberal racist template. Juan, like his Fox cohort Megyn Kelly a few weeks ago, clearly thought he had Newt cornered.
What followed was a four-and-a-half-minute exchange that led to ovations for Newt that pollster Frank Luntz called "unprecedented." Luntz added that "in 20 years of debates, I've never seen anything like it." Rush Limbaugh played the clip over and over -- making sure his audience understood that Newt was "getting a standing oh" each time. The tone of Limbaugh's voice clearly was approving.
Just as Newt did with the comely Kelly over judges and the Supreme Court, he turned Williams into a YouTube sensation over a failed attempt to play the race card. And by "sensation," I mean that both media personalities became famous victims of one of those classic on-the-spot -- off-the-cuff -- rapier-like Newt lectures. Schooled, taken to the woodshed, smacked down -- take your pick of descriptions. All and more apply now to Williams as they did to Kelly. So good was the moment for Newt that Williams should put an "in kind" contribution to Gingrich for President on his tax returns.
The exchange, of course, is famous now. YouTube, Rush, and Sean Hannity made sure of that. If you missed it, it's worth the watch here; it's as delicious as Tebow's game-winner a week ago.
But make no mistake: this is more than just a great debate moment. This should be a moment of instruction for the GOP primary voter and for Newt himself. This is how you win elections. This is how you win arguments. This is how you handle the national conversation. You express the conservative vision for America without apology and with boldness, and you do not buy into a single liberal premise while doing so. You play offense, not defense. And you don't slam capitalism.
For the record, Gingrich handled the foreign affairs section of the evening masterfully as well. Middle Eastern terror -- the assumed instigating factor behind the dreaded 3 am phone call -- is right in Newt's wheelhouse. Deftly mixing in a little parochial South Carolina history, the former Speaker showed total readiness for the 3 am phone call also.
You will not get the 3 am phone call, however, if you don't handle the 10 pm question. That's a fact. Newt showed Monday night -- as he has in most of the 16 debates -- that he is king of the candidates in the arena of ideas. It is that reality that slowly boosted Newt to the top of the polls in November and December.
Then he got sidetracked by an astounding array of negative ads aimed directly at him in Iowa. As reported earlier, nearly half of all Iowa political advertising was aimed at Gingrich. It worked, knocking away some two thirds of his support. So he had to respond.
Yet responding directly to Mitt Romney was a huge mistake. Mitt was not Newt's problem. Newt was not likely to get much of Mitt's support, and by most accounts, his Bain attacks actually driven some conservatives to Mitt. We know that this is true of some of Rick Perry's financial supporters.
No, the proper response would have been for Newt to spend all of his ad money and stump time doing just what he did Monday night in Myrtle Beach. He should have simply, directly, and succinctly put liberalism in its place in the manner that only Newt can do. All of the Bain money should have been spent doing this.
This is what I always thought, and the incredible response to him last night seals it for me. For what it's worth, Rush said the same thing yesterday on his show.
Whether or not it would have worked, we'll never know. But we do know this: Newt handles the 10 pm question better than anyone. He will definitely surge in the polls over the next couple of days. He has another debate opp on Thursday night. Whether it will be enough to win South Carolina is the question.
The author is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and currently a senior consultant for an outside group supporting Newt Gingrich.