Matt Lewis

Yesterday, during an interview with Rob Bluey and Ed MorrisseyNewt Gingrich said this:  

I think Republican consultants are mostly very stupid. I think they have no education. I think they have no sense of history. ... If I throw away African Americans, and then I throw away Latinos, and then I throw away suburban women, and then I throw away people under 40, and then I throw away everything north of Philadelphia -- there's a morning where Republicans can't get to a majority.

When Newt talks about "throwing away" votes, he is talking about what consultants refer to as "targeting."  The concept is simple: Campaigns live in a world of limited resources, so it makes sense to ignore "hard-to-get" votes and instead, focus your time, talent, and treasure toward likely voters you deem to be undecided and/or persuadable.  The problem with this, as Newt points out, is that over time it means you are losing -- not gaining -- supporters. 

I asked a few top GOP consultants to chime in on Newt's comments.  To my surprise, they thought he made some good points ...

Terry Nelson who served as Political Director for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, as well as campaign manager for John McCain told me this:

Newt is right. We have to compete for these constituencies in order to win elections. And we have a message for them, so we should not be shy about saying what we believe. If we don't, we will lose. This is one of the reasons the Bush-Cheney campaign focused so much on expanding our vote with these voters. [# More #]

Glen Bolger, one of the Republican Party's leading political strategists and pollsters, said:

Well, Newt  is right about the math being very difficult when we throw away a number of key groups.  The observation he makes that is off the mark is the implication that consultants are the ones coming up with the policies that have turned off African Americans, Latinos, suburban women, young voters, and Northeastern voters.  Americans don't all agree on issues, and that splits groups up.  Appealing to a broader swath of African Americans requires a sea change in policy and emphasis that has other impacts.  So, it's not that easy.  Simply saying we'll buy black radio won't convince African Americans to vote GOP. It's going to take a lot more.  Younger voters have moved away from the GOP because of their concern about Iraq.  That war was a policy decision, not a political decision by consultants.

Dan Hazelwood a top Republicans Strategist and voter mail expert explains:

Newt is half right. But (it) is not consultants ONLY. Consultants deal with how to get to Tuesday within the reality of what is. Newt is saying what he is best at, a vision for several years of why voting republican will make a positive difference in the daily life of a majority of Americans. The party needs this. Any quality consultant needs to have a plan to appeal to swing voters. He’s right you throw away too many voters and you can’t get a majority.

And Carlyle Gregory, a strategist who, in the past, has consulted for Gingrich and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay told me this:

I agree with Newt, sort of.  Any political party that defines itself by what it is not will never be a majority party.  But why single out Republican consultants?  How about Republican office holders, party leaders and party activists?  The last time I checked, Republican consultants, and I am one of that number, have not cornered the market on stupidity.  We have lots of company.   

Coalition building is hard work.  Thinking and acting like a majority is much tougher than whacking your enemies and throwing red meat to your partisans.  When I came of age in politics we were a minority party with a minority mind-set.  We knew the American public didn't like us or our ideas and the only way we could achieve victory was to fool the voters into thinking we were really Democrats or eviscerating our enemies.
 
In the 80's Ronald Reagan gave us hope and confidence in our ideas and our eventual success.  In the 90's Newt Gingrich taught us how to think like a majority. 
We need to relearn both lessons.

... Interestingly, none of these top GOP consultants knew I was talking with the others.  And they all started off by agreeing Newt had a point -- which -- I think -- is telling ...

Update - 2:41:  I just heard from media consultant Paul Wilson, who thinks the party -- not consultants -- are to blame:

Newt, whom I respect greatly, is frustrated by life right now and has taken his aggression out on us consultants ... Consultants deal in the here and now.  We are asked to win elections today even though we are sadled with the history of our party ... Where was the national party in trying to help Ken Blackwell?  I went to Howard University and listened to the white chairman of the Republican Party trying to persuade black students to join our party.  Excuse me it didn't work.   Ken should have been there ...

Update - 2:58: Political strategist Chris LaCivita tells me:  

I agree that there are several STUPID consultants --  but it’s the candidates who hire them that are real stupid.

Good point.  


Matt Lewis

Matt Lewis is conservative writer and blogger based in Alexandria, VA.

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