Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt at the Debate, or, Shameless Politics

The general reaction to last night's Republican debate in Iowa, summarized here by Andrew Sullivan, is that Newt Gingrich performed very well and solidified his front-runner status for the Iowa caucuses next month. His opponents tried to attack his sordid record of selling influence to those enriched by big government, but he parried every attack and stayed on message. Josh Marshall:
I think, unquestionably, the big story out of tonight's debate is that no one really landed a glove on Newt Gingrich.
Which brings me back to the great advantage, in American politics, of absolute conviction.

In the 60s and 70s Arizona sent to Washington both the most conservative senator, Goldwater, and one of the most liberal Congressmen, Mo Udall. A reporter asked Udall about this and he said, "voters in Arizona like people who stand up strongly for what they believe in." Watch the debates and you see that people cheer for almost any statement made boldly and clearly enough. Make too many qualifications or citations of fact, and you lose the audience.

Newt, a true narcissist, really believes that he is the great defender of western civilization and that this justifies his every act, and he therefore defends his own record without any trace of embarrassment. He believes in himself and his cause, and it shows. Like George W. "I don't do nuance" Bush, he comes across as somebody who believes what he says and intends to follow through. Americans like that. It is possible to learn this as a skill, as Hillary Clinton did, but it really helps to have a faith in oneself that transcends little things like reality, truth, and common sense. Because Newt has an unsurpassed faith in his own significance, it will be very hard for anyone to "score points" off him in debates, and he will never admit to his own crimes.

I have to believe that eventually the contempt Newt is held in by his own party's leaders will hurt him, but it may take a while, and Newt could win a few primaries first.

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