Gingrich, the Alinsky Republican! Really?

Newt Gingrich, using Rules for Radicals?

Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner wrote a poorly reasoned hit piece against Newt Gingrich. Ironically, I was looking for a little anti-Gingrich material when I came across Klein’s post. It irked me enough to write a rebuttal, so this morning, Gingrich gets a free ride and Klein gets scrutinized.

Klein accuses Gingrich of using the tactics of Saul Alinsky. That’s an intriguing assertion, to be sure, but is it true? If it is, Klein fails to make a case for the charge.

Charge 1—Gingrich exploits resentment.

“Many of the tactics he spoke about—such as exploiting resentment … —have become a central part of Gingrich’s strategy for securing the Republican presidential nomination.”

Well, exploiting is bad, so of course Gingrich must be bad for doing it. Let’s see the details. Gingrich attributed his South Carolina victory partly to “the economic pain that people were feeling.” That’s all that Klein says. We are left to imagine the rest of the logical argument about how this follows Alinsky’s blueprint.

Charge 2—Gingrich pits himself against the establishment.

“Many of the tactics he spoke about— such as … pitting oneself against the establishment—have become a central part of Gingrich’s strategy for securing the Republican presidential nomination.”

Klein gives a specification, Gingrich said that he was victorious in South Carolina because people were angry at “the national establishment”. Of course if people really were mad at the establishment and thought Gingrich was the best candidate to … to … to punch them in the nose or something, then he would have told the truth; but Klein doesn’t deal with the question of truth, just the nature of the charge. He apparently thinks that pitting oneself against the establishment can ONLY be done in an Alinsky-esque way. Silly.

Gingrich does rail against the elite. Klein points that that Gingrich was part of the elite and hints that his position is, therefore, hypocritical. However, a fair amount of Gingrich’s rancor is directed against media elites and liberal elites; Gingrich is obviously not part of either of those elite groups. As for the elite politicians in Washington, rightly or wrongly, Gingrich got booted out of that group. In many ways Gingrich is on the outside of the elite power circles. His central hypocrisy, if anything, is that he probably wants to be back in the elite circles. Yet, whether Gingrich is hypocritical or not, one can be a hypocrite without Alinsky.

Charge 3—Gingrich uses Alinsky’s 13th Rule

“And the way he scolded CNN moderator John King in last Thursday’s South Carolina debate followed Alinsky’s 13th tactical rule, which states: ‘Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.’”

Klein proves this damning charge by two specifications. First, he alludes to Gingrich’s response, in the recent Fox debate, to Juan Williams’ famous issue advocacy statement which the Williams tried to disguise as a question by ending his spiel with “Can’t you see…” Klein claims Gingrich personalized his attack on the media. Perhaps what really bothered media-member Klein is that Gingrich made Williams’ non-journalistic stand look bad by answering his rhetorical question.

The second specification is, in the last debate, when CNN moderator John King,

“tried to claim that it was another network, ABC, that had aired the interview with his ex-wife that had prompted the question about whether he had ever sought an ‘open marriage.’ Gingrich froze the target.”

Gingrich “froze the target” by “hollering” at the moderator: “John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else.”

Let me translate: a moderator asks a tough question, the candidate tries to squirm free with some vague notion that the question is based on bad journalism, the moderator says it wasn’t his fault, the candidate tells him it was.

And I thought Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals was suggesting underhanded tricks.

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  • JoeCitizen

    Actually, I think Klein makes a very good case. Gingrich is far more Alinkyish than Obama. Heck, he is proud to be a revolutionary – there should be no surprise that he uses tactics that other revolutionaries have honed.

    As to your expectation regarding “underhanded tricks” – I don’t think you really even understand what Alinsky was all about. Have you actually read his book? There is very little that is underhanded about it – it is tough, street smart, bare knuckles politics, but it is not deceptive. You should study these things for yourself if you are going to comment on them , rather than just surf off the partisan propaganda.