Dec. 9, 2011
By Jonathan Alter
Newt Gingrich is back in contention for the Republican presidential nomination partly because he understands the power of words, the pervasiveness of amnesia, and the dark art of making them work together.
It’s still hard to imagine Gingrich as president. He’s likely to blow himself up before next November. But the scary thing for Democrats is that Gingrich grasps these subtextual forces better than they do. It makes him a less predictable and possibly more dangerous opponent than Mitt Romney in the general election.
Gingrich helped Republicans seize control of the House of Representatives in 1994 with the help of “key words” tested by pollster Frank Luntz, who designed the “Contract with America.”
In 1990, Gingrich’s political action committee, GOPAC, put out an audio cassette with advice for Republican candidates. Gingrich followed up with a famous memo to Republicans called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control”:
“As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: ‘I wish I could speak like Newt.’ That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little.”
Gingrich’s list of “Optimistic, Positive Governing Words” included “common sense,” “courage,” “liberty,” “strength” and “vision.”