The Conversation

Newt Gingrich vs. the "consultant-centric" model

Newt Gingrich tees off on the "consultant-centric" model of campaigning, which he describes as campaigns in which the high-priced consultants call all the shots, moving the candidate around like a king on a chess board.  He wants candidates who think for themselves, employing consultants as "advisers and implementers."  And there's one particular consultant he's had just about enough of:

I feel compelled to write this because of Karl Rove’s recent assertions and my very unsettling round table with Stuart Stevens on ABC’s This Week this past Sunday... I am unalterably opposed to a bunch of billionaires financing a boss to pick candidates in 50 states.  This is the opposite of the Republican tradition of freedom and grassroots small town conservatism.  No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country.  That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine.  It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican.

As Gingrich goes on to point out, without the slightest concern for delicacy, Rove was "simply wrong last year," about everything from the Presidential contest to Senate races.  It is therefore presumptuous of Rove to appoint himself as the arbiter of which candidates are electable in 2014 or 2016.

Gingrich diagnoses the 2012 Republican presidential loss at length, including a bit of score-settling with Mitt Romney for "savaging" himself and Rick Perry over immigration - tactics Gingrich blames for critically damaging Republican appeal to Hispanic voters.  This is part of his overall critique about the "culture problem" that GOP consultants can't seem to grapple with, a problem that also includes clunky campaign rhetoric and a failure to take full advantage of modern communications technology.  He sensibly calls for studying and emulating the techniques that worked well for Democrats... just as, once upon a time, sharp Democrat analysts studied what Karl Rove was doing right.

To extend on Gingrich's thoughts a bit, I think he's saying Republican consultants mistakenly believe they can change our social and political culture wholesale during a campaign, rather than studying the culture and helping the candidate shape his message to reach it.  Influencing the culture is indeed very important work - I've been beating that drum for a long time, and no one beat it more loudly than Andrew Breitbart - but it's work to be performed between elections.  That's why I wish so desperately that big-money Republican donors would invest in cultural resources during electoral interludes, instead of saving all their resources to plow into the relatively short window of time represented by elections.  

As for the "consultant-centric" model, Gingrich himself is an example of the opposite.  Maybe he was too energetic about pumping out ideas at times - I think the moon colony could have been saved for another day - but he was never boring.  And being consistently interesting, while speaking with comprehensive knowledge of the cultural environment, is the best way to prevent the media from ignoring you to death.



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