Newt Gingrich's biggest problem: too many words, or too little cash?

Newt Gingrich said his recent campaign troubles came from consultants who wanted him to measure his words more carefully. Were they right? Or does he just need more cash?

Patrick Semansky/AP
Republican presidential hopeful, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaks at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on June 16.

GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich on Friday said something telling about his recent staff troubles during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The reason he’d clashed with his now ex-campaign consultants, he said, was because “they say you should only talk about three things”.

So that’s it! We’ve got some sympathy for the ex-Speaker here. He talks like the late novelist David Foster Wallace wrote – in long, discursive sentences whose clauses curl back on themselves, crashing higher and higher, until his rhetoric becomes a tidal wave of words. In an interview Mr. Gingrich can talk about three things before you even get a question out. Some days you’d swear he could talk about three things without even opening his mouth.

Let’s look at that same “Squawk Box” discussion as an example. Opining about President Obama’s announcement that he’ll release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Gingrich said this was a bad idea, and noted, as an aside, that the salt caverns which hold the oil in question can only be emptied and refilled six times, because fresh water is used in the process, and that leaches salt out of the cavern walls.

Can Tim Pawlenty talk about the effects of Obama’s decision on cavern wall integrity? We don’t think so. (We’re also not sure Newt is right there, to be honest.)

Then Gingrich moved on to say that President Obama wants people to drive Martian cars. We’re not making that up.

Gingrich started this train of thought by saying “the problem with liberalism is that all its ideas are terrific if they don’t happen.” Then he said, “Wouldn’t you love to be in a brand new vehicle invented by Martians, which uses no energy, lasts forever, and is terrific?”

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. But that’s the president’s energy policy,” said Gingrich.

See, Newt’s old staff probably did tell him to focus on a handful of talking points, over and over. That’s standard political consulto-babble, straight out of “The Candidate,” the old Robert Redford movie about how consultants manipulate candidates.

It probably drove Gingrich nuts. But in his case, was it right? Voters may just find his verbal dexterity distracting. Worse yet for his candidacy’s prospects, Gingrich’s words continue to get him in occasional trouble. Thursday night in a speech to Maryland Republicans, Gingrich said that Democratic economic policies have disastrous for African-Americans and that “Barack Obama is the best food stamp president in American history”.

Gingrich was making the case that the GOP might be able to attract more minority voters. But he’s used that line before, and Democrats reacted furiously, complaining that it had overtones of racism.

However, in the end it might be money that’s the Gingrich campaign’s biggest problem, not the candidate’s words. Quarterly presidential campaign finance reports are due in to the Federal Election Commission at the end of June, and there’s a chance Gingrich’s may be written in red ink. According to Politico, Gingrich is making little effort to raise money, and the campaign filing will show a debt.


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