The Myth of 'Newt The Great Debater'
There are a couple false "truths" which seem to be dictating much if not most of the Republican presidential race. One is that Newt Gingrich would be a great debater against President Obama. This accepted conventional wisdom is not only bogus; it is a myth of Herculean proportions.
It appears that Gingrich's entire argument for the nomination is that he is the guy we want in a nationally televised verbal brawl with the media's all-time favorite candidate. Nary has an opportunity passed when Newt fails to, in his typically egomaniacal style and with great bombast, assure us that all will be right with the world once Obama is forced to take him on in the ultimate battle of the brains.
We are told that all of the frustration, which media-hating conservatives have been feeling after four years of watching helplessly as the great fraud Obama has somehow avoided being exposed, will be all unleashed in a series of glorious, three-hour, Lincoln/Douglas style debates. By the end of that process, according to the Gospel according to Newt, Obama will have to be carried off the stage by network news anchors as our next president basks in the glow of a nation grateful to having been shown the light of truth.
This scenario, is not just some risk-free fantasy, it is as dangerous as the kid on the top of a building who thinks he can fly because he is wearing a fancy cape. Newt Gingrich would not only fail to crush Obama in a debate, he instantaneously would eliminate any doubt as to the inevitability of the president's reelection.
First of all, there is absolutely zero chance that Obama would agree to the debate format which Newt pretends he could somehow force the sitting president to accept. The only way to dictate the terms of such an event is to be ahead in the polls and to have the media take up your cause to pressure the other side. Newt has about as much chance of either of those things being reality as he does getting his second wife to tape a campaign ad for him.
Quite simply, that isn't happening, and yet absolutely no one ever even bothers to point this out.
Once forced to combat the president in a clash of 60-second sound bites refereed by Obama's politically-correct buddies, Newt's supposedly great debating strengths will backfire badly. In a Republican primary, his haymakers draw cheers from the partisan crowd and the commentators marvel at what a crafty street brawler he is. In a general election debate, the crowd of "independents" will boo and the very same "news" people will suddenly he horrified by the bull who just smashed their china shop to bits.
For example, let's take the most recent debate. Newt somehow got rave reviews for calling his ex-wife a liar (after saying that morning that he wouldn't say anything negative about her) and angrily lambasting the media for asking a legitimate question. CNN's panel universally praised Newt's answer as the highlight of the debate (this, despite the fact that he guaranteed that everyone in the country would know he has an ex-wife who hates him because the clip of him fuming was assured to get tons of airtime).
Does anyone really believe that if a similar circumstance occurred against Obama that Newt would be let off the hook like that? At best he would be portrayed as angry, unhinged, and lacking the temperament to be president of the United States. At worst, they would make him seemed like a rabid, uncaged, animal and, inevitably, maybe even racist.
Newt would be disarmed in this fight on multiple levels. First, he would lose the expectations game before he even started. Then, knowing his bar would be nearly impossible to hurdle; his massive ego would provoke him into lunging for a knockout on every punch. This would play right into the hands of the super coolheaded Obama who will be confident knowing that the referees will score anything his way as long as he simply stays on his feet.
In short, the whole affair would be an unmitigated disaster.
No one has more disdain for the news media than I do and no one would like to see Obama exposed more than me, so I am a pretty good focus group for what Newt's selling here. And yet it is as clear to me that Newt's wings of wax would melt in the debate spotlight like those of the Icarus from Greek mythology. In fact, the biggest difference between Icarus and "Newt the Great Debater" is that Athenian version is harmless in comparison.
Conservatives should be warned about what they are getting themselves in for if Newt is the nominee. Debate nights might be fun, but the hangover will last for at least four years.
John Ziegler is a conservative filmmaker who directed, "Media Malpractice... How Obama Got Elected."