This isn’t a terribly new ad for Newt Gingrich; in fact, its title is “Decision Time in South Carolina,” but it’s only four days old and contains the Gingrich argument in a nutshell for Florida and the rest of the primary. The Corner calls it a good ad even if one doesn’t agree with the argument, but perhaps that’s, er, debatable too:
There is only one candidate who can debate Barack Obama and win, stand up to the news media and win, and run against Barack Obama and win. His name is Newt.
Let’s take these premises one at a time. First, despite Gingrich’s optimism on this point, Obama will not agree to seven 3-hour “Lincoln-Douglas style” debates with Gingrich, or anyone else, either. It’s fascinating to contemplate, but Obama will probably only accept two 2-hour debates, three at the most, in the general election, and only in the traditional media-moderated format. Why would he agree to do anything different than George Bush did in 2004 and 2000, or Bill Clinton in 1996 and 1992? And while Gingrich would still out-debate Obama in those formats, so too would Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney. Obama’s not really that good at debates; John McCain was just worse at them.
On “winning” debates with the media, that’s even more of a fantasy. Gingrich certainly would win with conservatives, but the media will take those kinds of attacks and turn them into either (a) pandering or (b) paranoia. It will be fun to watch for conservatives, and it might produce a few surprises, but it’s more likely to add to Gingrich’s negatives among the general electorate than improve them. And his negatives are pronounced even among Republicans, as today’s Rasmussen poll in Florida shows even while he leads.
I agree with his final argument, though. With the economy in as bad a shape as it is — and with perceptions of it still driving the election — Gingrich has a good chance of beating Obama. However, so does Mitt Romney, and current polling (taken well before South Carolina, though) shows Romney more likely to do so than Gingrich, and even Rick Santorum could probably beat Obama. That actually argues against the debates having much of an impact on the election in this cycle. This election will be a referendum on Obama much more than a love affair with a Republican alternative, so a couple of debates probably won’t have much impact at all. If the economy stays poor this year, voters will want to give Obama the heave-ho. The best chance for victory would probably come with a candidate who can keep their negatives from overwhelming the Obama-referendum focus, and Gingrich might be the least likely of the three to accomplish that.