Here’s an amalgam from an unlikely source of two points I made yesterday. Conservatives know exactly what Trump meant when he said “Obama founded ISIS,” Gingrich insists, correctly. He meant that Obama was negligent in withdrawing American troops from Iraq before the country was prepared to control its own territory. The Iraqi army was still too weak, and Nuri al-Maliki was still too distrusted by the Sunni population, to keep Anbar province free from jihadi influence. Once the Syrian civil war broke out next door in 2011, the binational power vacuum was easily filled by jihadis. It was horribly shortsighted of O to yank U.S. troops when he did, as they might have helped keep an uneasy peace between Sunnis and Shiites and they might have been able to stamp out a nascent ISIS, at least in Iraqi areas, before it caught fire. If you’re familiar with that argument, you grasped Trump’s point instantly. If you’re not familiar with it, Newt complains, then Trump sounds nuts saying Obama founded ISIS. It’s a poisonous soundbite to any swing voter who likes Obama and who fears that Trump is too far out of the mainstream of American politics to be trusted with running the country. Which means, unlike Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Newt is apportioning blame for the emerging November debacle judiciously. You can screech about #NeverTrumpers all you want, but the fact remains that the candidate isn’t doing basic things that could have, and would have, made this race competitive.
Byron York caught up to Gingrich after the Fox segment below (the key bit comes at the beginning of the clip) and got him to elaborate.
“Trump should spend more time talking about America and less time talking about Trump,” Gingrich told me after an appearance on Fox News.
“It’s not helpful, and it’s not helpful to have quips that distract from the main issues,” Gingrich continued. “If Trump is not talking about the economy, and he’s not talking about safety, and he’s not talking about reforming Washington, he’s losing ground.”…
Gingrich sees an increasingly urgent situation. “The fact is, you only have a limited amount of communications time, and you should be focusing that time on the issues that matter to the American people,” he said. “If talking about yourself drowns out everything else you’re talking about — because you know as a conservative the news media is never going to give you a break — you have to make sure you don’t give them a break. And every time he gives them something to talk about that allows them to avoid his issues, they’re going to take it.”…
“But it gets totally submerged in all of this baloney,” Gingrich concluded. “And Trump contributes to the baloney. He and the news media have a sort of baloney machine going between them.”
All of that is so obviously true that it feels strange giving Newt credit for acknowledging it, as though someone should be clapped on the back for admitting that the sky is blue. But among big-name Trump supporters in the media, it’s an unusual admission. Hannity might concede (and has conceded) that Trump can and should run a more disciplined campaign that keeps the heat on Clinton rather than getting sidetracked with “baloney,” but that sort of concession among Trump’s defenders is typically treated as a footnote. “Yeah, he should be attacking Hillary, but the g*ddamned #NeverTrumpers won’t let up!” With Newt, it’s not a footnote, and rightly so. Trump might have ended up losing the election regardless due to organizational deficiencies compared to Clinton, but there’s no question that the Rust Belt would be in play if he had treated his rallies and interviews essentially as opportunities to talk about protectionism and terrorism. You can’t blame the #NeverTrumpers for a 10-point deficit in red-trending Pennsylvania.
In lieu of an exit question, read Mollie Hemingway on how the media overreacts to Trump gaffes like “Obama founded ISIS.” There’s plenty of truth in what she says, including the fact that Trump has made that point before but only now, in the heat of the general election, has the press seized on it. They did the same thing with his criticism of Judge Curiel. I think that’s partly a function of the “chaff” effect in Trump’s rhetoric — there’s so much to cover or challenge every time he speaks, some stuff simply gets overlooked the first few times he says it — but their rooting interest in the outcome in November unquestionably makes the timing of their newfound interest … curious. All I’d add is that if even Newt is annoyed with Trump over it, it’s not a nontroversy. The media may be exploiting the Obama/ISIS point to help Clinton but that’s because Trump made it easy for them. That’s Newt’s point. When is he going to stop turning the ball over?