There are a couple of observations I have been meaning to make about Mr. Gingrich’s “magnificent, bold and fearless” debates performance.
On the first observation, New York Times’ David Firestone beat me to the punch and I am glad because he elucidates it much better than I ever could.
Firestone ascribes a lot of Gingrich’s “successes” in the two previous South Carolina debates to the (red-meat) crowds:
Republican voters in South Carolina said that much of Newt Gingrich’s appeal stemmed from his masterly debating skills. They believed he deftly made brilliant points, was vastly knowledgeable on his feet, and brutally shut down his opponents, and they dreamed of his doing the same thing to President Obama.
In truth, he has simply been more bombastic than his opponents, using withering ridicule to please crowds that were primed to applaud it.
He contrasts this with last night’s NBC debate in Florida where, “with the crowd volume turned off and much of the energy curiously drained from the conversation, it was Mr. Gingrich who withered.”
Firestone mentions Gingrich’s “remarkably weak” responses to Mitt Romney’s’ “assaults” on Gingrich’s in-disgrace-resignation as House Speaker and on Gingrich’s alleged influence peddling.
Even more interesting, and telling, is Firestone’s “12:45 p.m. update:”
Apparently Mr. Gingrich really needs to play to the audience. This morning he threatened to boycott any future debates where audiences have been told to stay silent. Naturally he turned it into a press-bashing opportunity, saying NBC stifled free speech because it was “terrified” the audience would side against the media. Any journalist who hasn’t got that message by now is not paying attention. What Mr. Gingrich really sounds like is a comedian who can’t perform without a laugh track.
Now to the second observation and I must preface it by saying that it is just a “gut feel” and that I may be proven totally wrong — albeit I hope Gingrich won’t have the opportunity to do so.
Probably the two most “bold, brave and fearless” moments during Gingrich’s debate performances — at least as measured by the crowds’ delight and visceral response — occurred when Gingrich put Fox’s Juan Williams “in his place,” when, during the first South Carolina debate, Williams asked Gingrich to explain his comments on “child janitors” and, the other occasion, when Gingrich angrily attacked John King at the second South Carolina debate when King asked Gingrich to answer allegations made by his ex-wife on the “open marriage” issue.
While, responding to King’s question on the “open marriage” allegation, Gingrich had every right to be indignant — especially if the allegations are in fact “false.” However, his harsh and almost personal attack on King, to the cheering of the red-meat crowd was totally unnecessary — almost cowardly.
Why “almost cowardly”? Because in both cases — Juan Williams and John King — Gingrich knew darn well that the two journalists would not be able to defend themselves or respond to Gingrich in any firm fashion, especially when being booed and noisily attacked by the red-meat audiences.
I would be very surprised if this brave, brilliant debater would engage any of his fellow Republican contenders so viscerally, angrily and “bravely” — face-to-face — knowing that they would come back and “put him in his place” or that he would “wither.” I would also be very surprised if Gingrich would dare to use this approach when and if debating president Obama.
Read also, “Gingrich Threatens to Skip Debates if Audiences Can’t Participate” at The Caucus