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Newt’s Debate Machine Revealed, Quickly Falls Apart

I just finished watching the Republican debate and I can’t imagine that the Newt Gingrich campaign is very happy with what happened. The crowd and I expected Newt to explode, but not in the way that he did. We wanted to see fireworks and saw a performance that fizzled and flopped. The internal workings of Newt’s debating style were laid bare for all to see and the process of exposure made the Gingrich campaign look much less ferocious. Here are the two places where it fell apart:

1. The first exposure happened right at the start. Newt went straight for the jugular, a tactic we saw him use against Juan Williams and John King, by attacking Wolf Blitzer for asking a question unsuitable for the a primary debate. The tactic is interesting because it breaks the third wall, the unspoken contract between the debaters and the audience that the questions have weight and importance and need to be answered. The problem is that by doing this three debates in a row, we all expect it to happen. It didn’t help anything that after Newt responded to the question (which had to do with Romney’s offshore bank accounts), that Romney chimed in and said that it would be nice if his accuser would be willing to say the things he says off the stage on the stage as well. In my mind, that remark sealed the deal and pushed the momentum of the debate to Romney.

2. The second exposure for Newt, came after his push for an improved space program. It wasn’t the way that he argued for it, It was Romney’s on-stage analysis that in every debate Newt argues for a specific big government program to help out the state the candidates happen to be debating in. Romney read Newt’s playbook aloud (he literally read off almost every state specific program Newt had pushed for). The result was that Newt looked much less powerful and unpredictable behind the podium than he had ever looked before. It didn’t help that Romney made Newt look like he was pandering to individual States at the expense of the country as a whole.

I did not expect Romney to win this debate. He hasn’t had the finesse thus far to look natural and unpracticed when he speaks. The primary practice has been very good for him and if Newt can up his game for the next round I think he will be better off for it too. I for one, am happy that Romney didn’t walk through the primaries as easily as he could have. It’s making all the candidates try harder and we’ll be better off for it in the end.

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