Dave Weigel at Slate:
They like the idea of Gingrich facing Obama, and they think he provides a stark contrast. He says so. His last full-on grapple with Romney came when the former governor attacked him, in a sort of more-in-sorrow-than-anger way, for saying that the Palestinians were an “invented people.” That, said Romney, was complicating things for Israelis.
“The Israelis are getting rocketed every day,” snorted Gingrich. “We’re not making life more difficult. The Obama administration is making life more difficult.” Plus, he sounded like he was right on the facts. “Palestinian did not become a common term until after 1977.” That’s the sort of knowledge-bomb that Republicans dream of dropping on Obama—they feel like this is right, but here’s a candidate who can say so.*
And then Gingrich closed the loop.
“I’m a Reaganite,” he said. “I’m proud to be a Reaganite. Even at the point of causing some confusion with the timid.”
Who was “the timid?” Whoever viewers thought it should be. Obama. Romney. The media. All of them, as far as they’re concerned, would lose in a showdown with Newt Gingrich. And this is how he won the debate.
There are basically three modes of thought on the Israel/Palestine issue in this country. Some people are strongly pro-Israel. This group includes both Jews and fundamentalist Christians.
There are some people who are strongly pro-Palestine (or anti-Zionist). This group is the smallest and tends to be left-wing. Then there is the group I belong to – the people that either don’t care about the issue or give it a fairly low priority on their personal care-o-meter.
So a couple days before the debate Newt drops a bomb and refers to the Palestinians as an “invented people.” (If you want to debate whether that is true or not go ahead but that’s not the point of this post.) This was not an accident or coincidence. This statement guarantees he will get questioned about it during the debate. He is prepped and ready when it happens.
Your reaction to his statements depends on which group you belong to. You will either agree, disagree or not really care.
If you don’t care then it’s “no harm, no foul” as far as Newt is concerned. He didn’t gain anything with you but he didn’t lose anything either.
On the other hand, if you are pro-Palestine you probably object rather strongly to what he said. But then you’re probably a lefty and weren’t going to be voting for Newt anyway.
There was only one group where Newt could hope to win votes using this issue, and his statements were directed at them. And he knew what he said would be controversial, thus guaranteeing lots of replay and discussion. He set himself up for a fat pitch over the plate and then hit it out of the park.
Well planned and well executed.
This is not an endorsement of Newt Gingrich. This is an assessment of his political skills. If you held a gun to my head and told me to choose between Newt and Obama, I would tell you to pull the trigger.