The Tactical Humorist

02.24.12

Tactical Humorist: Gingrich Referees, Romney Channels Costanza, Santorum on Dukakis

Decoding the laugh track of the CNN Debate in Arizona, featuring references to George Costanza and bogeyman Mike Dukakis.

Newt Shaves Tussle With Occam’s Razor

It was a tense moment. Mitt Romney was beating an opponent around the head and neck about his own earmarks as Santorum struggled to find the exact right Washington jargon to explain how Congress works to an Arizona Tea Party audience. Fortunately for everyone, Newt Gingrich was there to serve as referee—with a relaxed demeanor and an enormous purple tie—ready to break up this hockey fight.

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“I think it was totally appropriate for you to ask for what you got,” Gingrich said to Romney. “I just think it’s kind of silly for you to then turn around and run an ad attacking somebody else for getting what you got—and then claiming what you got wasn’t what they got—because what you got was right and what they got was wrong.”

This response was 1) classic Gingrich, 2) politically smart, and 3) an impressively succinct and funny take on the exchange that was formulated in real time. Just another reminder that Newt is skilled at describing the absurdities he sees—even as he is blind to those he creates. But his distillation of this absurdity was not nearly as above the fray as it first appeared: it was a merciful defense of Santorum, with whom Gingrich has formed a Michigan non-aggression pact. Newt is less interested in arguments about earmarks in Arizona than in the prospect of Santorum giving Mitt a black eye in Michigan.

Dukakis Derision, Part Deux

Newt Gingrich offers up different liberal bogeymen for his different opponents. When deriding President Obama, the name you will hear is Saul Alinsky, a harmless and obscure left wing thinker whom the speaker apparently believes makes Obama sound radical and himself sound super-smart. But when disparaging Mitt Romney, the proper noun you will almost always hear is “Mike Dukakis,” who more than 20 years later remains a durable punchline for the GOP base. In Wednesday’s debate, someone else chose to play this otherwise admirable former governor* for too-easy laughs.

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This time it was Rick Santorum who was happy to remind others that Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial accomplishments came during the eight years he sat at Dukakis’ old desk. And more to the point, the barb revealed an unspoken but obvious tag-team approach that both Newt and Rick have been happy to adopt in their shared goal of reminding others that Mitt Romney is a “Massachusetts Moderate.”

*Disclosure: near the bottom of my resume is the year I spent working on the Dukakis campaign. (Insert obligatory tank joke here.)

The Summer of Romney?

“As George Costanza would say: when they’re applauding, stop.”

When I heard Mitt Romney misquoting George Costanza, I thought my cable box was playing tricks on me.

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After all, who would have thought that such a self-assured Mr. Perfect would ever attempt to channel the world’s most neurotic and self-loathing fictional character? To his credit, Romney kinda pulled it off. However, allow me to reference another quote from the Book of George worth considering in light of Mitt Romney. When asked how he is able to say with conviction things that are blatantly false, George responds: “Jerry, if you believe it, it’s not a lie”.

This central tenet of George’s belief system shines a light on Mitt’s most glaring weakness: generally speaking, people tend not to believe that Mitt believes the words that he speaks. Instead, Mitt seems to be guided by the belief that if someone else chooses to believe them, it is not a lie. Not even the “real George,” tweets Jason Alexander, believes that one.