Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich once again played the part of the elder statesman at the Iowa Republican Party Ronald Reagan Dinner, praising fellow Republicans and blasting the Obama Administration.
Gingrich did more than talk about the strength of his own policy ideas, but went out of his way to demonstrate the strengths and successes of the other primary contenders. He did this to show the strength of the Republican Party and conservative ideas in comparison to the policies of the Obama Administration.
Gingrich said of the Iowa event and the Republican primary, “This is a national conversation. It’s is an opportunity for the American people to talk about where we are, who we are, what we value and what we are trying to accomplish.”
What differentiated Gingrich’s speech from the other candidates who spoke at the dinner is that he pointed out not the differences between them, but the similarities and strengths that each individual brought to the Republican Party. Each of the candidates brings “unique things” and “unique characteristics” according to Gingrich.
In many ways, the complimentary words Gingrich had to say about the other candidates came at a point in time when each of those candidates are looking to breakthrough in Iowa.
Gingrich said that Texas Rep. Ron Paul has been “consistently correct” about the need to audit the Federal Reserve. For Paul, who is better organized than he was four years ago, a win or a strong second place showing in Iowa would force the mainstream media to take his candidacy seriously. His strongest message will be that, as Gingrich noted, he was ahead of the curve on fiscal issues and the Republican party has come close toward his views.
He said that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was his “mentor on the 10th amendment” and he is delighted that the debate is about whose flat tax is better.
Going forward, Perry’s argument will be, as he said, to take a “sledgehammer” to Washington, D.C. During his speech, Perry spoke a lot about how “courage” was needed to change the culture in Washington, and it is a contrast that Perry may make in a more blunt way going forward against his “competitors.” The best case scenario for Perry would be to finish ahead of Romney in Iowa, but Perry risks losing momentum if he lags behind the pack and does not finish in the top three in Iowa on caucus day.
Of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gingrich said that she “deserves a lot of credit” for taking unpopular conservative stands in Congress and for being the first legislator to introduce a bill to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law and led the charge against ObamaCare. He said that these are “powerful ideas.”
For Bachmann, she must win her “home” state of Iowa, where she has planted her flag. To do so, she will remind Iowans during the next two months of her opposition to establishment Republicans in Washington and her fierce opposition to Obama.
Finally, Gingrich said, “Nobody has done more to stem the tide of radical Islamists, to understand the dangers in Syria and in Iran than [former Pennsylvania Sen.] Rick Santorum.”
While Gingrich praised Santorum on foreign policy, Santorum is smartly linking family and social policy to American exceptionalism, a subject which is also Gingrich’s bread and butter, to hope for a surprise showing in Iowa that could make him into this election’s 2008 version of Mike Huckabee.
Although Gingrich was clearly going out of his way to praise fellow Republicans and their ideas, he did not hold back from making a few subtle digs at the primary candidates who did not appear at the dinner, and better articulating earlier comments that evening from Gov. Perry.
Of the candidates that did not show up to the dinner, Gingrich said in a jesting tone, “There are a couple I wish were here tonight, and I would have said nice things about them, but we’ll skip over that.”
Perry said earlier in the evening, during his opening remarks, that he would like to recognize “all of my competitors that are here”.
Taking Perry’s remarks even farther, Gingrich said, “ I am here with very fine competitors, but no opponents. We only have one opponent, and that’s Barack Obama.”
On top of heaping praise on his fellow competitors, Gingrich made sure to say that his campaign has more substance than any other campaign in “modern history”.
Gingrich is running on the strength of his ideas, and the ideas of fellow Republicans. Making the point that the country needs to be focused on changing course and adopting ideas that will truly turns things around, Gingrich is framing the race on superior governance and policies rather than personalities and personal distractions.
Gingrich brought up two reasons why the Republican electorate should and would nominate him.
I am the only candidate in this race, who at a national level, has balanced the budget four consecutive years, led an effort across the system for the first tax cut in sixteen years, led an effort which led unemployment to drop from 5.6 to 4.2 percent and created a national majority for the first time in forty years and the first re-elected national majority for the first time since 1928.
With scale of the problems that the country is dealing with, Gingrich made it entirely clear that America must have a president that fully understands how to conduct the business of government, including working with the legislative branch and building a national movement.
“What we are faced with is the results of a radical ideology, and an inexperienced and incompetent president.”
For the second reason to make him the nominee, Gingrich upped his call for a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates with Obama. Gingrich said that Obama would accept the challenge because of his immense ego.
Gingrich drew laughter when he said, “How can a Harvard Law Review editor, the greatest orator in the modern Democratic Party, admit to being afraid of being on the same platform with a West Georgia college professor.”
He then said that because he studied history, “American history, as opposed to Obama,” he knows exactly how Abraham Lincoln set up and beat Stephen A. Douglas. If Obama doesn’t agree to the debates, then he will follow Obama and make a speech in the same place four hours later.
As the only candidate that was actually a part of the Reagan Revolution in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Gingrich can lay claim to being perhaps the only one who understands its success and failures from the inside. At the Reagan Dinner this was certainly a powerful message to send.
Tony Lee contributed.