Since Newt Gingrich is offered advice to Herman Cain about what he should do in the wake of the latest allegations that Cain had a thirteen year affair, I suppose it would be permissible to offer a bit of friendly advice to the former Speaker of the House: Mr. Gingrich, stick to Obama. By this, I mean simply that you ought not be goaded by media or political analysts into breaking form by going after your fellow Republicans. That would be a terrible mistake, and you’re by all estimations a very intelligent fellow, so my advice to you is an old refrain: “Dance with the one who brought you.” In this case, that one has been your strategy of focusing on Obama’s inept, miserable leadership. Don’t become boastful in pronouncing that you will be the nominee. Earn it by doing it. One of your past problems that you have recently admitted has caused you some trouble over the course of your career is immaturity. At times, it seems your immaturity still rears its ugly head when you seem not to know when to shut up. Your interview Thursday with Jake Tapper makes the point well enough: It’s one thing to say you believe you can and will win the nomination, but its another to state boastfully that you will be the nominee.
Speaker Gingrich is indeed a smart fellow, and at the moment, he seems very able to fulfill what will seem awfully boastful to some who are not yet sold on his presidential potential. There’s another old saying that tells us “It isn’t bragging if you can do it.” The problem in this case is that with such things, you’re better off to let the tell be in the show: Do it and no bragging will have needed justification. In short, just shut up with the prognostication and do it. This sort of thing has gotten Mr. Newt into trouble before, and while he speaks to a greater maturity these days, this is the sort of thing that leads some to wonder: Has Newt really wised-up with age, or is he just a better pitch-man?
If I were Gingrich, I would get myself as far away from the internecine battle for the nomination, and focus instead on the real opponent he would be forced to beat. In the first instance, this helps sharpen the debate that is going to count most, should he fulfill his boast. In the second instance, it permits him to appeal to the positive side of the debate, instead of getting drawn down into the weeds with other Republicans. Yes, he will need to rebut them when they make charges of their own, but the key here for Gingrich will be remaining above that fray and instead focusing on the battle with Obama and the Democrats. After all, he is now the verifiable front-runner, and if the strategy of staying positive with respect to his fellow Republicans helped propel him to this lead, it will surely help maintain him there.
Of course, all of this supposes that Gingrich is listening to anybody, never mind some bumpkin out on the Texas prairie, but nevertheless, Gingrich has always possessed the gift of gab, and I remember fondly his Renewing American Civilization lecture series that aired in the early and mid-1990s on Paul Weyrich’s National Empowerment Television network. It was educational and captivating, in part because of Gingrich’s mastery of history, but also because he was speaking in the manner of a teacher without talking down to students. That was classic Newt Gingrich, and it was very effective. Newt’s singular failing in this respect has been his seeming inability to integrate feedback in real time. He can get out ahead of himself and his audience, and this is where the trouble frequently begins.
Such may be the case with his interview with Tapper. It’s not that Gingrich said anything wrong, per se, but it is the manner in which he said it that may rub some people raw:
“I’m going to be the nominee,” the former Speaker told ABC News. “It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”
To his credit, in this interview, he went on to say that he thinks Republican prospects ought to avoid attacking one another:
“And by the way I don’t object if people want to attack me, that’s their right. All I’m suggesting that it’s not going to be very effective and that people are going to get sick of it very fast. And the guys who attacked each other in the debates up to now, every single one of them have lost ground by attacking. So they should do what they and their consultants want to do. I will focus on being substantive and I will focus on Barack Obama.”
This is a better approach. Getting sucked into commenting on the Herman Cain story doesn’t help. That’s fodder for the kind of “gotcha politics” he has so often decried, and it helps the media spin the story into headlines that prompt divisiveness. Maybe Speaker Gingrich is learning a little maturity after all. Sometimes, learning when to say nothing is that final bit of wisdom. That’s always been something of a challenge for Gingrich, and there have been instances when his own words were clipped and snipped to his detriment. Back when he said “wither on the vine,” I would bet that while he really meant nothing like his comments were portrayed to have been, in retrospect, he probably wishes he had found another way to say what he meant without giving his opponents an easily decontextualized sound-bite. Even now, if you type “wither on the vine” into a search engine, a reference to Gingrich will still appear in the first few entries, though that idiom has been around for a very long time.
It’s great that Newt Gingrich is still quick-witted when it comes to policy and politics. If he’s right, that he will be the nominee, he’s going to need all his wits about him, and this time, there will be no room for error. Many have lately remarked that Gingrich’s mouth often has been Newt’s worst enemy may have a point. Time will tell, but I suspect we will know it if he begins to focus ever more narrowly on Obama, Obama’s administration, the Obama policies, and and all that go with a campaign against Obama. Many Republicans and conservatives are ready to take the battle to the President, and if Gingrich bears that in mind, he may not only succeed in becoming the nominee, but he may also find himself able to rally the party in a unified effort to defeat Obama.
Psssst… Hey, Speaker Gingrich: If you do get the nomination, don’t run about in the media giving interviews in which you’ll tell us that you will be the President. As a friendly suggestion, since advice is all the rage, don’t tell us – just show us.