Thursday, January 26, 2012

Debate Whine

Yesterday, I was blessed with an e-mail, addressed "Dear Conservative," from Newt 2012 in which the candidate stressed his biggest campaign message (no, not racial animus):    I can bash Obama one-on-one.              

"I think I've proven I could take him on in a series of debates," the former House Speaker boasted, "and undo his billion-dollar campaign. It’s very important that we have a candidate who's strong enough, and tough enough to be able to take on President Obama in a series of debates."        Vowing to hold "President Obama accountable," Gingrich promised he "will defeat him in the debates and show the American people that there is a better, more conservative direction."     He added

This is not just a Presidential campaign. It's a battle for the future of this country. That's why I will immediately challenge President Obama to a series of three hour Lincoln-Douglas style debates, and make him defend the passage of ObamaCare, 15 trillion dollars in debt, and out of control unemployment. I'll even let him use his teleprompter!

Republican primary voters are excited by the prospect that Newt would will beat Obama to a figurative bloody pulp in debates.     Except that we learned Tuesday that the tough guy, Newton Leroy Gingrich, is going to take his ball and go home if he doesn't get his way.     On Tuesday morning, he

threatened not to participate in any future debates with audiences that have been instructed to be silent.   That was the case on Monday, when Brian Williams of NBC News asked the audience of about 500 who assembled for a debate in Tampa to hold their applause until the commercial breaks.

In an interview with the morning show "Fox and Friends," Mr. Gingrich said NBC's rules amounted to stifling free speech.    In what has become a standard line of attack for his anti-establishment campaign, Mr. Gingrich blamed the media for trying to silence a dissenting point of view.

"I wish in retrospect I'd protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it's wrong," Mr. Gingrich said.   "And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they've done in every debate."

Yes, the tough guy, Newton Leroy Gingrich, is going to take his ball and go home if he doesn't get his way.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who will be moderating tonight's debate in Florida, has gotten the message, assuring radio host Bill Press "It's going to be respectful.     People are going to be able to applaud if they want.   But I don't want to see any craziness; I want the audience to be respectful of these four candidates."    

Intimidated by the Gingrich campaign, it's a metaphor for the mainstream media, which is afraid to call out Republicans when they play fast and loose with the truth; better to pretend that both sides are equally to blame for a lack of bipartisanship, incivility, and rampant dishonesty.

In the unlikely event Gingrich is nominated, however, he would face a problem few of his supporters have contemplated.         But as Rachel Weiner notes at The Fix, "cheering and shouting were banned in all three general election debates between Barack Obama and John McCain."      

The Obama team, preferring that general election debates not turn into a cheap imitation of Barnum & Bailey, no doubt would demand that arrangements for any debate preclude it from being turned into a circus.     Gingrich supporters would try to portray themselves as victims, but that would be little consolation after an overwhelming presidential and congressional defeat in November.

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