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12.09.11

Newt Gingrich Will Be Everyone's Target on the Next Debate

As the frontrunner going into Saturday’s debate, Gingrich will be everyone’s target, Mark McKinnon writes. Also, join McKay Coppins and John Avlon for a live chat of the #IowaDebate at 9pm ET.

Newt Gingrich started a revolution and took over the Congress by throwing punches. Saturday night we’re going to see if he can take ‘em.

This debate will be about one candidate and one candidate only: Newt Gingrich. Everyone and everything else will be irrelevant. 

There will be no other story line. Having achieved the status of the latest frontrunner with less than a month to go before Iowans caucus, Newt Gingrich will be a human piñata. Everyone is going to be swinging at him. All the other candidates will try to land blows, as will the moderator(s). 

There is simply no other realistic expectation or outcome. If you’re one of the candidates, the surest way to steal headlines is to launch an attack at Newt. If you’re Mitt Romney, you want to prove that you don’t have to hide behind surrogates to take on Gingrich. If you’re the moderator(s), because you work for the network you care most about creating entertainment, which means the questions you are likely to ask are those designed to create conflict or a food fight with the frontrunner. 

Expectations are high for the former House speaker. And the problem is that as smart as Newt is, and as good as he’s generally been in the debates, he really doesn’t prepare. He just assumes he is the smartest guy on the stage and can handle anything spontaneously. And while Gingrich is quick, he has also shown some startling lack of dexterity in answering the few attacks that have come his way so far. He got tied up in knots by Romney over his position on the individual mandate. He drew jaw-dropping guffaws when he claimed he was hired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for his perspective as a historian. And he came across as irritable and snarky when asked to provide a succinct answer on how to address health care. 

It will be fascinating to seeifNewt can handle the carpet bombing without losing his cool.

Given the incoming scud missiles that will be coming his way in this debate, Newt better be prepared with more than bombast when grilled—again—on why: 

• He sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi rhapsodizing about climate change.
• He faced 84 ethics charges in the House.
• He had to pay a $300,000 fine to the IRS out of those charges.
• He was blamed for the government shutdown in 1995.
• He was really hired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
• He supported an individual mandate for health care insurance.
• He supported liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava over conservative party nominee and Tea Party favorite Doug Hoffman in a special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district.
• His path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants is not actually amnesty.   

I can’t remember a debate where so much attention would be focused on one candidate with so much ammunition aimed his way. This will be fascinating to watch to see if Newt can handle the carpet bombing without losing his cool. This won’t be so much a debate as it will be a human endurance contest. Gingrich is going to get the debate equivalent of a water boarding. We’ll see if and how long he holds up.   

And if this debate doesn’t knock Newt to the canvas, it will indeed make him stronger. And then he’ll probably be in the ring for the full 15 rounds.