The man of the hour is Newt Gingrich. He’s getting attention and South Carolina has a reputation of picking THE Republican nominee. Seems a bit surprising until you notice Frank Luntz seems to be his BFF lately. For those not familiar, Frank Luntz is the Republican wordsmith/ focus group guru that helps them pick just the right words to say and the frames they work in – Words that Work (his book). I promised earlier that I would analyze a portion of the CafeMom focus group that Newt and Frank participated in; this is a good time. My suspicion is that Luntz has been retained for the duration of the campaign and was hired once Newt realized he had a big problem with his image among women. Social conservatives don’t take kindly to serial marriage – or divorce. They also don’t like hearing about an open marriage, his alleged multiple mistresses, or the story about hassling his soon-to-be ex-wife on her “death bed” (for the record, she was recovering from a tumor removal surgery – also for the record he admits to one affair). It almost doesn’t even matter, the nuances of truth or rumor in these tales, because the picture – or frame – has already been painted. You can’t un-hear something, un-see it, or un-imagine it. Once a frame has been locked in, it is very hard to shake. This is why the wordsmith has likely been called in. Luntz is working hard to get Newt to seem more likeable to women – to an insulting degree in my opinion. Newt is fast on his feet anyway, but Frank can point out his weak areas and teach him to relate a bit better, and answer the tough questions by resetting the frame of the conversation.These tactics are working.
CafeMom sponsored an event where the guest of honor was Newt Gingrich and the facilitator was Frank Luntz. I can’t quite figure out what the reason for the event was other than Newt wanting to speak to moms and this seemed to be a good forum. The set up is already suspicious on my radar – were moms clamoring to really connect to Newt? Like a practiced volleyball game Frank Luntz sets up Newt over and over and Newt spikes the ball; Newt painstakingly ingratiates himself. Not only does he pander to the audience, but the crying babies and crying candidate (yes, Newt cries) tap into our audio consciousness and push those motherly empathetic buttons all over the place. For the folks in the audience it was probably even more sensory overload, baby smells, pinchable baby cheeks peppered throughout the audience, coffee talk, and mom as the unsung hero – but wait, I thought Newt was a hard nosed authoritarian?
Turns out he seemed too hard and Luntz knew he had to soften his image and try to break out of the womanizing frame to get women to vote for him. He tried to get folks to think of moms – not mistresses – when they think of how he relates to women. The trigger points come fast and furious in just a few opening moments of this event – it’s hard to keep up- but perhaps that is on purpose too; it would be preferable if the audience just becomes awash in a mix of warm praise for them and empathy for him. Empathy is the number one value for liberals. Newt knows that moms are nurturers and to get in their good graces, he needed to connect with that, even if showcasing that value makes him seem a bit inconsistent in the big picture.
First Gingrich tells moms at large that they have it the worst in this economy, never mind that he’d like some of their children to work as janitors to help improve the economy – probably a tact that doesn’t fly so well with moms. He continues by stating a “fact” that “mothers care more deeply for their children”, as if it were a measurable phenomenon. It’s not, and it’s rather insulting to fathers. That notion also – on it’s face – rejects the idea of equally co-parenting. Next, within a minute of opening his mouth, Gingrich recalls 9/11 and the horrific experience of being a mother not knowing how safe her children were at that time; now that’s a sucker punch. He is using the tactic that has been – sadly – a favorite of Republicans since 9/11, a very cheap shot. The words 9/11 are so loaded with empathetic emotion that simply sprinkling the phrases throughout any speech elicits a more emotionally favorable response. Indeed, in less than a minute Newt’s voice get’s husky and a little choked up, his eyes seem to go a little misty as he empathizes with a mom from the morning of 9/11. Remember that this is a scripted response to the very first general question about moms. Gingrich – with Luntz’s prompting, is setting the tone, or frame, for the entire event. Then Gingrich says that mothers are the civilizing influence of the country and he deprecates all of the candidates in comparison. He then brings up values (which reinforces my thoughts that they are the most important) and how mothers – more than anyone – understand best about America devalued. This works on two levels; is he talking about an absence of morals in society or our position in the scheme of world power?
He wraps up his first “answer” by asking mothers to think about how much they love their children and how much they love their country, recalls the fact that we all realize our mainstream media is failing us, and hits a home run with “we can’t stand politics as usual”. A survey was done before this event and the closing thoughts of this first response reads like a report from that survey. He is feeding the moms what they’ve already told him they want to hear (to applause). Now you may be thinking that his reasoning is solid and that he is simply responding to “the people”, but his views on policy and the issues make this statement, indeed this entire event, smack of patronization. He actually doesn’t care so much if two lesbian moms love their children and want to be married to create a stable, respectable family entity. He isn’t that supportive of moms that come from a different background and want to incorporate some of their traditional culture into child rearing. He doesn’t seem to mind that corporations have made moms have to worry about a multitude of issues from pollution to job security, war profiteering to election wrangling; he is quoted as saying that “bureaucracy, credentialing, taxation, litigation, and regulation” are the enemies of enterprise. Never mind that these necessary protections are the only rules that mean we still have minimum wage, environmental protections, worker’s rights, or a way of making corporations pay their fair share for taking a greater chunk of resources. Gingrich has little sympathy for families dealing with addiction or incarceration – very real and difficult issues that dramatically impact moms and families. He also believes in mandating a God fearing America. He recklessly thinks that nuclear waste can be kept in “deep storage” for 10,000 years and promotes new nuclear power; he believes in unlimited fossil fuel extraction – and would like to disband the EPA. He is for an even greater military and has sabre rattled in the direction of Iran and North Korea. For a roster of his quotes and opinions on issues go here.
I first mentioned this event in my post titled “Authenticity Matters” because, like Santorum, I feel that Gingrich has an authenticity problem. The way those doubts come to the surface are very different, but they both boil down to trust. Do you trust these people? As a parent myself, I consider the above paragraph and cannot say that Newt Gingrich seems like a genuine person. Perhaps if I had been living in a cave and only saw the clip I posted from the CafeMom event, I might really think Gingrich was my man, cared about my parental struggles, and therefore my kids, but when I consider his platform I see a lot of danger and greater insecurity lurking for my family.
There is so much to unpack from this one event – even the first two minutes of it – that it is worth at least two posts. This is likely because the whole event seems to be orchestrated by Frank Luntz, and Frank is very good at what he does. Check back in tomorrow to find out how this word wrangler mixes facts up with slogans and shamelessly pokes at our trigger points over and over to get the emotional response he wants for his clients.