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Meet the 'Pygmies'

Republican voters' dissatisfaction with their field of presidential candidates has been percolating for months, but leave it to Newt Gingrich to give it its most memorable expression. The current candidates, he told a breakfast gathering sponsored by the American Spectator this week, are a "pathetic" bunch of "pygmies."

The label recalls the tag the press slapped on the Democratic primary field early in the 1988 campaign, the "Seven Dwarfs" left behind after Gary Hart's withdrawal in the spring of 1987: Dick Gephardt, Mike Dukakis, Bruce Babbitt, Joe Biden, Al Gore, Paul Simon and Jesse Jackson. The moniker dogged the Democratic field throughout the race, with its effects lingering even into the general election thanks partly to the fact that the party's nominee, Dukakis, is not exactly Brobdingnagian in height.

John Norris, a veteran Democratic strategist in Iowa who ran Jesse Jackson's campaign in the state in 1988, recalled this week that the Democratic campaigns that year had enough faith in the quality of their candidates so as not to let the label get to them. But the moniker's suggestion of a stature gap between the Democrats and both the man they were seeking to replace, Ronald Reagan, and his anointed successor, George Bush, may have planted the seeds for Dukakis' image troubles later in the campaign, such as his ill-advised appearance perched in a tank with an oversized helmet. "It probably fed into that image," Norris said.

So, do this year's Republican candidates have to fear that a similar perception could develop this time around, sparked by Gingrich's remark? Norris suspects not, saying the current occupant of the White House does not have the effect of making his potential successors appear small by comparison.

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire's Survey Center, agrees. As unsatisfying as the current GOP field may be to much of the party's base, candidates like Rudy Giuliani and John McCain command too forceful a presence to be characterized as shrimps, he said. And, said Smith, there is no real equivalent in this year's GOP landscape to the looming presence in 1988 of high-profile non-candidates like Hart and Mario Cuomo.
"These guys may not be seen as top tier caliber, but there are no other top tier candidates out there thinking that they might run," he said.

One person might beg to differ on that score: Gingrich, who has hinted at running but more recently played down the prospect. Though if Gingrich does decide to jump in, notes Norris, he better realize he's already lost one constituency: "I guess he's willing to surrender the pygmy vote."

--Alec MacGillis

By Post Editor  |  July 27, 2007; 10:38 AM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Candidates  
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Gingrich making an important historical analogy, not attacking candidates

My Letter to The Washington Examiner
Washington, DC

Dear Editor,

Bill Sammon's piece along with its headline, "Newt Gingrich goes nuclear" (The Examiner - July 23, 2007) presents yet another example of how our political process is broken.

In a recent hour-long newsmaker interview with reporters, Newt Gingrich when asked by Bill about joining the presidential race made a simple historical analogy. He likened his interest in joining the race in its current form to former French President Charles de Gualle's interest in returning to political life under the French Fourth Republic, a political and governing system which he disdained.

Sammon either did not understand the reference or he chose to quote Gingrich out of context. I am inclined to believe the latter because Bill is a smart person.

Gingrich as a young man lived in France under de Gaulle and earned a Ph.D. in modern European history. His comparison, which Sammon ignored, was significant and relevant to today's dysfunctional political process and government bureaucracies.

For twelve years de Galle unwaveringly opposed the Fourth French Republic. He despised the ruling elites of the permanent governing class. They had no new ideas, no creativity, and no solutions. Their failed political leadership, lack of seriousness, political games, and constantly shifting coalitions led to an unmitigated political mess, compounded by a governmental structure that didn't work.

The Fourth Republic ended after military disaster in Indochina in 1954 and the subsequent loss of the war in Algeria. Herein is the significance of the Gingrich analogy unreported by Sammon.

Last week, a snowman was allowed to ask a question about global warming to serious candidates by way of a YouTube video. We have reduced a presidential debate to a TV game show similar to 'Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader'. This is no way to choose the leader of the free world.

The de Gaulle illustration is fitting. De Galle understood that to solve France's innumerable problems and return it to prominence on the world stage, would require dramatic reforms that could not be realized from within the then failing political system. He boldly called for real change and in 1958, de Gaulle lead the creation of France's Fifth Republic which survives today.

Similarly, in order to solve America's seemingly intractable problems, what is needed at the core of the presidential race are bold solutions and bold leadership that transcend the constraints of partisan political posturing.

It was clear to anyone in the room that when Gingrich said, "This is like going to De Gaulle when he was at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises during the Fourth Republic and saying, 'Don't you want to rush in and join the pygmies?" that he was referring to the French analogy of a broken political system and not any of the candidates running for President.

Sammon shortchanged his readers by choosing to ignore the important comparison, and choosing instead to quote Gingrich out of context all for the sake of horserace politics.

Rick Tyler
Press Secretary for Newt Gingrich
Washington, DC

Posted by: ricktyler | July 28, 2007 7:02 AM | Report abuse

So much has been going on in the past few months, that we, (at have not written to the Washington Post. But on this "pygmy" thing, it is being spun by the media all wrong.

On the issue of 10 Republicans (as stated by Newt Gingrich) standing at the podiums, like trained seals waiting for a fish; I disagree. In addition to the recent CNN debate, all 10 men who appeared in S Carolina were given equal stature on stage. Each was allowed to speak on various issues regarding our nation and its place in the world.

For example, during the Fox debate,the viewers might have disagreed with the statements by a few of the candidates, but at least the people were given a chance to see each of the 10 candidates, hear their message, and decide for themselves who is worthy of their support now.

One of the candidates was former governor of Virginia, and former National Republican chairman, Jim Gilmore. He was asked during the Fox debate in South Carolina, "Each of the 10 of you could easily become members of the local country club. But what does it say of your party when you do not have a woman or a minority standing on stage tonight?" (more or less, that was the question.)

Perhaps the best answer is this:
"While the Republican party has excellent women and minority leaders who could run on the 2008 ticket, each of them is dedicated now to serving in their Cabinet or congressional offices or working for a living. Secretary of State Condi Rice, JC Watts, Lynn Swann, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, Elizabeth Dole, and Olympia Snowe could all run and we would welcome them. And you never know who will be chosen as VP to balance the GOP ticket."

Now that Jim Gilmore has dropped out, with Senator McCain having financial difficulty, and even Fred Thompson delaying and delaying when he announces, there is still a lot of time before the final GOP field is set in place before the February 5 SUPER DUPER PRIMARY.

Since the latest AP/IPSOS poll shows the top choice by Republican voters is 23% for none of the above. (less numbers in support for Rudy, Fred, McCain, and Mitt)

At a time when Secretary of State Condi Rice is still at 50% in Iowa as a preferred choice to enter the race, it shows there is still support for her to enter at the last minute. With high job approval, high name ID, she is not going to need the $20 million advertising budget of so many other Republicans running now.

It is just a fact shown in any poll which includes her name.

Take a look at The Des Moines Register issue, May 19th, to confirm the people's choice is Secretary Rice at 50%. Newt is the 2nd choice at 48% and Fred is 45%.

People are thinking about Condi Rice, and waiting until the last minute to donate money and volunteering. Now that should inspire a few debating replies on this website.

Posted by: dbu2709399aolcom | July 27, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

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