The Jacksonville 5: The Top Five reasons why Gingrich bombed in last night's Presidential Debate

5.  Gingrich forgot Former Bush and Ford Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s famous admonition: “The enemy has a brain.”  Whether your opponent is Al-Qaeda, the Sunni insurgents in Iraq or Mitt Romney, it is pretty stupid not to anticipate changes in your opponent’s strategy, especially if your strategy has been winning. Everybody knew that Romney had a new debate coach, Brett O’Donnell, who had previously been advising Cong. Michele Bachmann.  So, you would think that Gingrich might have anticipated that Romney would be more aggressive, have some answers and go on the attack?  Think again. The change in Romney’s debating style seemed to come as a shock to Newt.  When Romney defended his investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the government entities that helped cause the economic crash) by explaining that he had a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest and that his trustee had invested in mutual funds, of which small portions consisted of Fannie and Freddie assets, Newt said, “Okay.”  Further, Romney pointed out that Newt’s investment portfolio included similar mutual fund purchases, to which Newt said, “All right.”  If Newt can’t find a staff that will discover these items and prepare him, he can’t run a presidential campaign—against Romney or Obama. [For a humorous and accurate summary of the debate, please go here].

4. Gingrich forgot, “One should never go into a job interview without a strategic goal.”  A candidate debate is a job interview.  The candidate doesn’t control the questions but often he will have lots of leeway in volunteering his thoughts as to why he should be hired. In the instant case, the primary interviewer, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, is not known for his creativity, intensity or tight control exercised during a debate.  Newt could have anticipated Wolf’s mundane, pedestrian questions about immigration, the candidates’ investments, the qualities of the candidates’ wives, self-deportation, the language of the ghetto, Obamacare, Latin America, capital gains taxes, etc. Plenty of opportunity there for Newt to focus the discussion on his strengths: brainpower, problem solving or originality. Did Newt ever do that last night? Not at all. He wandered around, in the  intellectual sense, aimlessly, as if he were on valium and in a daze. Gingrich pulled an Erin Burnett, CNN’s latest new show host [of “Out front with Erin Burnett”], who is paid big bucks to provide a cute, perky high school freshman look and offer such incisive comments to her guest’s response as, “Interesting.”  Newt’s equivalent: “I agree with Ron [that I really didn’t balance U.S. federal budgets in the mid-90s].”  Good, Newt, that response will win you a lot of votes. Could you maybe keep the answer a little shorter?  [How could I have been so wrong in my  thinking Newt is an expert debater,  or is this just another  example of the Good Newt and Bad Newt ]

3.  Newt needed to do a much better job of turning negatives into positives. Senator Marco Rubio {R-FL] warned Newt earlier in the week to drop ads like the one that called Romney anti-immigrant. Team Gingrich dropped the ad—nobody wants to get on the wrong side of Senator Rubio, who is quite popular through-out Florida and a strong possibly to become the Republican nominee for VP in 2012.  When Romney raised the issue of the anti-immigrant ad, as you knew he would, Newt should have used that as a springboard for a slate of pro-growth job proposals.  For example, there are specific skilled jobs that require additional legal immigrants to meet the demand, and Newt should have said “Our focus needs to be on expanding the caps on such legal immigration,” so the economy can make use of immigration to avoid bottlenecks in the economy. Newt could then have added, “We need a President who approves of projects such as the XL pipeline from Canada, which is environmentally safe and would add tens of thousands of jobs in the U. S.

2. Newt forgot James Carvelle’s 1992 advice to Bill Clinton, “It's the economy, stupid.” When asked about Romney paying a low [capital gains] tax rate, Newt pointed out that he wants Romney, like everyone else, to pay a zero capital gain tax, but he missed the broader agenda.  Newt’s strategic goal in the debate should have been to differentiate himself from Romney by emphasizing Newt has a pro-Growth, pro-jobs agenda that will drive his administration.  Unlike Newt, who wants to keep the Bush capital gains and dividends tax cuts for all income earners, Romney would repeal those tax cuts for the top 2% of income earners.  Newt should have said that would be like “killing the golden goose,” who laid the jobs eggs for the bottom 98% of income earners.  Newt should have argued also that the country needs a President who understands the importance of keeping individual income tax rates, sales tax rates, capital gains tax rates, dividend tax rates, payroll tax rates and corporate income tax rates low—for everybody, not just for the cronies of Barack Obama who can buy exceptions in the tax code for themselves. “This is what differentiates Romney from me,” Newt should have said.

 1. Newt didn’t know that his Numero Uno strategic goal should always and everywhere be  to communicate: “I am the guy who wants to lower the unemployment rate in Florida from 9.9% to 4%, what we used to call full employment.” Obama’s Chairman of the CEA, Christina Romer, told us, “Pass my $800 billion stimulus and the unemployment rate won’t go over 8%.” We passed it and the rate went over 10% and it still is more than 8% (and almost 10% in Florida), three years into the Obama administration.  What I am telling you, Newt Gingrich should have said, is, “Elect me and a Republican controlled congress, and we are going to lower tax rates for everybody and get back to full employment, i.e., 4% unemployment.”

Newt should have added, “Oh, yeah, I also feel the pain of all the teens, especially minority teens, who are suffering extremely high unemployment rates.  Those teens often have fewer skills than their adult competitors and employers will only hire them at lower wages—so let’s lower the minimum wage for all teens, which will increase employment opportunities for them without hurting employment for the adults. “

“Oh yes, one more thing,” Newt might have said [borrowing Bob Sirott’s oft used closing line], “A lot of low income parents, especially minorities, have kids in failing public schools. Let’s give them a chance (this National School Choice week) to exit those failing schools and go to the charter or voucher school of their choice, giving them a much better chance to learn how to read, write and do math.  That will do more to lower long term, structural unemployment than anything else we can do, and will enrich the lives of the kids and their parents.  It’s the least we can do.  I am sure President Obama will join me in this proposal [Indeed, as of June 27, 2002, Obama would have supported school vouchers, if they would have "made the students better off.” (Move the cursor to Watch Obama at 4:55 to 5:30)]

Now, that’s how you do a debate.  Or, as Casey Stengel[former manager of the Yankees, Dodgers and Mets]  might have said, “Can’t anybody play this here game.”

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