The GOP's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad debate

The Republican Party's slate of presidential candidates put on a remarkably poor show in New Hampshire this week

Robert Shrum

Newt Gingrich usually resides on a separate astral plane. But out of stubborn pride or the momentary regeneration of the rusty sense of strategy that bought the GOP control of the House in 1994 — for the first time in four decades — the former House speaker and soon-to-be-former presidential candidate dared one of the few sensible comments in the recent New Hampshire debate. He essentially repeated, in muted form, his earlier critique of Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to save Medicare by destroying it. This time, Gingrich didn’t call it "right-wing social engineering"; but he insisted that if "you can't have a conversation with the country where the country thinks what you're doing is the right thing, you better slow down."

I have to wonder why Gingrich himself didn't slow down before repudiating his own initial description of the Ryan plan with the preposterous excuse that his words were taken out of context. (My rule here is simple: When you plead "out of context," you’re confessing that’s exactly what you actually said.) Instead Gingrich could have gone to the seniors who disproportionately populate the Tea Party with a message that, however false it was then, resonated powerfully during the storm over health care reform. He could have said that he was willing to wager his campaign for a cause: "Keep your government hands off Medicare" — even if the hands are attached to the arms of a conservative Republican.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.