In America, we like winning, we hate losing, and we need to know who has come out on top. Even if it isn’t a game.
Take Saturday’s Republican debate, for example. Everyone’s talking about Newt Gingrich’s aw-snap-yo dis of Mitt Romney – “The only reason you didn’t become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994” – and Governor Romney’s $10,000 bet, as if these are things on which to judge whether either candidate would make a good president. The overwhelming consensus is that Mr. Gingrich scored a win, and Governor Romney took a big, fat “L.”
The one moment in the debate that mattered most to me was the interaction the two had about Israel and Palestine, with reference to Mr. Gingrich’s recent labeling of the Palestinians as an “invented people” (a statement he didn’t back away from during the debate). Governor Romney took pains to say “I’m not a bomb-thrower” in order to indicate he has the proper judgment for the job.
That exchange made me hearken back to what Rachel examined on Friday: that the establishment of the Republican Party considers Newt Gingrich a loose cannon. She noted former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal that called Mr. Gingrich “a trouble magnet” and “a starter of fights that need not be fought.” (See the whole segment below, after the jump.)
From the point of view of the intended audience, I think both of them had good points. It pointed to a lot of Newt’s problems, but in a way that I’m not sure will damage him in a GOP primary audience. But Mitt got a chance — which he hadn’t remotely up till now — to make his basic point which is that Newt’s a “bomb-thrower”, a person who is just not temperamentally suited to be president — something that is unquestionably true.
One wonders how much of this liberal-bait Mr. Gingrich believes, and how much of it he says to get people talking so that he can continue selling himself. First and foremost, as his priorities seem to indicate, he is selling himself as a commercial property, and what helps that more than controversy, right? But even as his opponents try to paint him as a moderate, he is also doing a hard-sell to the fringe right, whose ranks may very well deliver primary victories. Keep in mind that Mr. Gingrich made it clear on Saturday that as president, he’d exercise the very same judgment he’s showing as a candidate.
Is that the judgment Republican primary voters and caucus-goers want in a president? Their overwhelming response seems to be “yes.” If Newt Gingrich wins the nomination because he “wins” debates, it may be the first time a candidate was ever chosen for his skill at playing the “dozens.” (And if that’s the case, I have a few cousins who might be upset that they didn’t run.)