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The Washington Examiner on January 20, 2012 ran a “Beltway Confidential” article called America Hates Newt Gingrich. The article lists several surveys showing negative reactions to Gingrich vs. BIG BRObama and vs. Romney.
Well, I do not care for him either!
However, I immediately began thinking of certain successful presidents who were not very likable, and of course Richard Nixon came to mind. Here was a successful politician who lacked what is termed “charisma,” who lacked John F. Kennedy’s Irish charm and movie-star visage, and who personally seemed very difficult to appreciate.
After his loss to Kennedy, and then his loss in California for governor, Nixon seemed ever angrier, petulant, and simply washed up. As we know, however, he won two national elections for the presidency, and was later ruined by his (apparently real) traits of being suspicious, vindictive, and arrogant.
So how did Nixon overcome his negative image?
First keep in mind that he was Eisenhower’s Vice-President, and Eisenhower was not seen as very charismatic at all: an historiometric analysis by Professor Ronald DeLuga showed Eisenhower ranking third last in charisma (above Carter and Ford).
Given that his presidency is often portrayed as deficient in purpose, rather inert, and not particularly inspiring, Eisenhower’s emergence in the bottom third of the rankings is not unanticipated. Eisenhower’s steady, but languid demeanor may augment his low charismatic ranking.
Nixon had also established himself as capable of handling the Russians, especially through the famous Kitchen Debate with Khrushchev. So what remained to be done?
In the 1966 Congressional elections Nixon campaigned rather relentlessly for Republican candidates, re-establishing his national reputation: his speaking skills were not bad, since he often came across as no-nonsense and highly competent.
To soften his image as humorless, he appeared on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (saying “Sock it to me!” in a self-satirizing way, as if he were Rich Little imitating Nixon).
His campaign (via Roger Ailes, of FOX Network fame) also attacked his “cold” image (their polling showed voters considered Hubert Humphrey a “warm personality”): they had him appear at “town halls” with a picked audience, and bought 10 hours of television time to broadcast Nixon speaking with “average Americans.” But sparks had to fly now and then to show Nixon’s real nature, and to avoid making everything seem phony. One example occurred at a show in Philadelphia, where an Afro-American radio host, no friend of Nixon by any means, was included on the panel to ask him combative questions. Nixon handled the situation well, sticking to his guns, and was cheered by the Republican crowd.
Thus Nixon created any charisma he lacked naturally by the way his managers (Ailes is given much credit in a book by Kerwin Swint called Dark Genius): Nixon was highly motivated, understood his problem, and listened to people who knew more than he did about solving his problem.
And won the presidency twice, despite the seething hatred of the MSM!
So Newt has charisma problems with the press and – according to MSM polls – is “hated by America.”
Let’s assume these polls are correct: following Nixon’s example, what should Gingrich do? My ideas are as follows:
First, Gingrich needs to stay positive about his agenda, an agenda extolling more freedom for Americans – and more money – by insisting on some sort of immediate reduction in the size and tax appetite of the federal government, along with a plan to avoid national bankruptcy by having the government do less meddling in the lives of its citizens. Nixon’s town halls are now cliches: a new variation is needed, e.g. where Gingrich is sitting down with students, women, and other groups known to be less than impressed with him, and they should be genuinely hostile.
If Gingrich can play the teacher handling a disruptive class, persuading them with his humor and ideas, he will see his “likability” numbers rise. The hostile audience will be disliked, and Gingrich – if he can be trained to stay cool and self-deprecating, and not to talk too much – will succeed like Nixon.
Second, the Mathematics of MAObama should be easy for Gingrich to explain: a poster with the national debt identified with the written number 16,000,000,000,000 on it would get the point across very simply! In fact, using that number on billboards, running across the screen in TV ads, at movie theater previews, etc. could be a symbol of the campaign. Gingrich the Historian can point out how many centuries it took for the national debt to hit 9 Trillion, and how many years it took for BIG BRObama to double it almost.
Third, his team would need to address the background of personal hypocrisy with an auto-da-fé moment: if Gingrich has found religion late in life, along with a wife 20 years younger, he needs to sell his metanoia quietly yet firmly, the way Nixon handled the openly hostile questions from the Philadelphia radio talk-show host.
Fourth, like Nixon, appearing on assorted shows – and not just Jay Leno or FOX News Sunday – to soften his image would not be a bad idea.
Certainly if Gingrich becomes the nominee, he will need to face the likability issue: other ideas besides the ones above will be necessary. Is he flawed? Oh yes! But how flawed was Nixon?
In this case, nothing is impossible. America can be persuaded to embrace Conservative ideas to save the country – and I mean save the country – from its own selfishness, short-sightedness, and bad judgment (i.e. electing spendthrift, nanny-state politicians of both parties), even with Gingrich at the top of the ticket.