Friday, January 20, 2012

Lessons Learned from Newt Gingrich vs. Mitt Romney: REPUBLICANS HAVE TO LEARN TO FIGHT

A key argument by moderate Republicans is that putting forward THE PERFECT CANDIDATE is the trick. If we simply choose the right candidate, everything else will fall automatically into place.

My argument is that it does not matter which candidate you choose. The GOP has to learn how to FIGHT (rhetorically and politically, of course)… and to fight in UNITY.

And, yes, that means being PERSUASIVE, not simply cantankerous. Success is measured by whether the listener is persuaded, not by how you feel saying what you want to say. Success is when the hearer says (even quietly to himself) “You’re right” not just if you are being loud and ornery (like me).

I suggest that recent events in the GOP Primary highlight what I was saying. (And, no, I had NO foreknowledge of any attacks on Mitt Romney. I just spoke from 28 years in Republican campaigns, from being co-chair of Reagan/Bush 1984 at the University of Florida in 1984.)

There is NO candidate who is immune from being attacked.

You have to be geared up for (political) battle.

You can’t avoid the battle by hiding behind a candidate whom you believe is perfect.

The mistake that Mitt Romney and his team made was that they SAW the “baggage” for which Newt Gingrich could be attacked, BUT THEY WERE *BLIND* TO THEIR OWN BAGGAGE. Just because it hadn’t attracted attention yet, they though they were immune to criticism.

So Mitt Romney started a mud-slinging war ASSUMING that it would only affect Newt, and Romney would come out smelling like a rose. Nothing would stick to him.

Just because a candidate hasn’t been criticized YET, doesn’t mean he WON’T be.

So Mitt Romney decided to go negative and spark a war thinking that he could smear Newt, but nothing could be said negative about Mitt Romney. You can’t run a campaign ASSUMING that nobody can find anything negative to say about you. Your opponents will *ALWAYS* find something negative to say — even if they have to fabricate smears out of thin air.

So what’s the lesson? GIVE UP? NO!

If you think Mitt Romney, is a better candidate, FIGHT for him. Don’t think you can coast to an easy victory.

Contrast this with Newt Gingrich’s opening in last night’s SC debate:

Newt used a brilliant political tactic, when opening last night’s debate. He did not want to talk about or dwell on the substance of the question of his ex-wife’s comments. Marianne Gingrich’s interview had (has) the potential to totally destroy Newt’s candidacy, because people will assume he can’t win the general election. They may not care in the primary, but they have to wonder “Would a Newt nominee survive the general election and beat Obama?”
THAT was one of Christine O’Donnell’s points in making her controversial endorsement of Mitt Romney: Christine expressed her analysis that Newt Gingrich would be savaged over his personal baggage in the general election, leading to the re-election of Obama.


In opening last night’s debates, he changed the story to being about the WAY that he responded. He took a losing topic, his ex-wife’s comments, and turned it into a winner — HOW he fought back, showing himself to be a fighter who can take on tough challenges. I am sure he planned ahead on this — to highlight his strength, energy, and boldness in fighting back, to OBSCURE the substance of the discussion, and convert it into being all about his debating strength. So you no longer think about WHAT they were talking about, but only about HOW he said it. I am sure he planned that all along.

I would feel much better about a Mitt Romney nomination if Republicans who mostly are his supporters UNDERSTOOD *HOW* to take on Barack Obama in the same way.

I don’t mind Mitt Romney at all. But I think the GOP needs to know how to fight and win (not just fight for fighting’s sake, of course).


We don’t know how to fight for *ANY* candidate, so we are blaming the candidates, instead of ourselves as campaigners.

By the way, don’t get me wrong:

I suspect that Christine O’Donnell is genuinely pained by (in her view) watching a re-run of the party acrimony of 2010. I haven’t spoken to her in a while, but I understand from her comments, and her “Tweets” that pop up on our Facebook feed, that she really dislikes the prospect of another self-destructive civil war.

I suspect that for Christine it is like watching a car accident happening in slow motion and you can’t do anything to stop it. So her response to a ridiculously excessive number of candidates was to feel the need to all get behind one.

One of the smartest things that Mitt Romney supporters could do would be to fly Christine O’Donnell down to Florida to make that passionate appeal that the Party needs to unite behind one candidate, that we cannot beat Obama divided. She assumes that means coalescing behind Romney. But she’s not the only one, from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Gov. Nikki Haley to Ann Coulter, and many others.

My concern is not with the choice of candidate (even though I do lean elsewhere), but with the underlying assumption that we don’t have to fight for every vote if we pick the “easy” candidate.

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