Newt's New Game
The salient factor of our age is that anyone with an internet connection can investigate issues or even develop skills without the need for intervening layers of experts or formal instruction. In such an environment there is no need to treat voters like they are all dropouts with short attention spans. Indeed those of us out in the sticks have decreasing patience with media types who talk down to us or try to fool us with slick images or empty words. A huge number of us investigate every claim for ourselves.
Against this Army of Davids no carefully crafted image gets taken at face value for long. Newt gets this new decentralized and more populist political world in a way Romney's campaign hasn't yet grasped. Newt never uses "I" when he can use "We". He doesn't believe staying on schedule to the minute is as important as capitalizing on an unexpected opportunity that arises on the campaign trail. Most of all Newt doesn't dumb down his message for what he thinks is the level of his audience. Use a word or a phrase in a speech that people don't understand and today's audience is more like to reach for their smart phones to look it up than they are to feel belittled.
Even libertarian blogger Ann Althouse is warming up to the way Newt engages voters with his ideas rather than his unprepossessing image.
Gingrich has achieved his position through the sheer force of putting ideas into words, words that people heard. There's something quite beautiful about that, quite American. And it's beautiful without the man being beautiful. Back in 2008, many of us fell for Barack Obama, who - as Joe Biden put it so memorably was "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy... that's a storybook, man." Today, we question how articulate Obama really is and, with the distance of time, it's easy to see that the whole "storybook" gave us the impression that the speech was wonderful. That was an impressive effect in its time. But with Newt, there's no storybook. There's no newness, only Newtness, which isn't nice-looking or even clean. It's just words. Words! That's a storybook political treatise. A political treatise, man, and we're reading it. You'd think we'd be more influenced by the image of The Newt...
... but we're not. We're hearing the words, the speech, the ideas. I hear democracy maturing! Over The Newt! I think that's pretty cool.
For some reason the Republican party's national campaign consultancy can't seem to come to terms with this new political environment. What's still cool to them is fitting the frontrunners into a bland template designed in the era when Walter Cronkite still controlled the agenda. It didn't even work all that well in previous eras but today it is actually insulting to primary voters.
It's been noted that half of Washington DC has been hired by the Romney campaign. The advice they seem to be giving reminds me of the magazine consultant's report the ABA Journal commissioned in the Jimmy Carter era when it wanted to expand its advertising base beyond legal publishers/service providers We were told we couldn't be competitive for the ad dollars of consumer luxury goods because our editorial content contained too many big words and even the occasional Latin phrase. If we wanted to get such advertisers we were advised to shorten the articles and simplify the language, We ignored that advice. Instead we went to the ad agencies and pointed out that our readers earned well into six figures and spent at least an hour or two each month reading our magazine- big, hard to pronounce words and all. It turns out that was all that mattered to the marketing directors at Mercedes and BMW. In other words we were correct that being true to our magazine's mission was our real strength. Romney needs to take the message to be true to his own real strengths to heart. Primary voters want to hear a spirited and detailed defense of capitalism in language that behooves the candidate's multiple Ivy League degrees and millions in earned rather than inherited wealth.