By the time you read this, Newt Gingrich may have already dropped out of the Presidential race. This will happen at some point in the future, and there are many reasons why, but the most interesting and surely novel reason for the failure to obtain his party’s nomination for President of the United States is the role and power of social media. For whatever brilliance one believes Mr. Gingrich to possess, politically or otherwise, he does not have the experience and capacity to connect and effectively use social media to his advantage; and that will be his downfall.
Barack Obama won his party’s nomination and ultimately the Presidency in part with his ability to relate with younger generations, having with him a powerful social media strategy that employed thousands of small donors and local activists. Unlike any other candidate and President, he both needed and actively sought that kind of interaction with people. When he became President, he converted to a different Blackberry, one for security matters, while maintaining another for personal items, but always the wiser about the perceived security of smartphones. He has since maintained Facebook and Twitter accounts, not as a means to appear young and hip, but as a man and leader that knows these are media from which people acquire news.
New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has become a social media star with his witty tweets and passionate, informed rants from the House floor that find their way to YouTube. Still, even Mr. Weiner is not immune from social media pranks, as it would appear his Twitter account was recently hacked, forcing the Congressman to hire a lawyer for such matters. Like Obama, he knows the positive power and negative consequences of the new virtual era.
Congressman Weiner and President Obama are relatively young, but it is not age that hurts Newt Gingrich. Vice President Joe Biden has become a darling of the inter webs as well, with YouTube showcasing his many gaffes, often hilarious and harmless. His office even made a video parody of him for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner to great applause.
Vice President Biden though, and just as importantly the people around him, have an understanding of social media. Simply having an account online does not pass for comprehension. Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy for President via Facebook and Twitter, but the attempt to connect and appear young was completely inorganic.
In fact, Facebook announcements are so last election. We’ve come past the point where it is notable that politicians have Facebook and Twitter accounts; it is just assumed. There exists no one who is watching the nightly news and paying attention to politics that is also unaware of the existence of Twitter and Facebook. In the occasions where social media sources are not involved in the news or the reporting, they are promoted as ways to connect with the journalists and reporters. This is all to say that there was nothing special about the Facebook announcement by Newt Gingrich other than the fact that it looked and felt totally forced. Not only is it unnatural for him and certainly pushed for by his staff, but he doesn’t really look like anyone that anyone knows on Facebook.
Following the announcement, the Gingrich 2012 campaign continued it’s inauspicious start, as the Monday after, when the news wasn’t discussing Mr. Gingrich’s Meet the Press outing, they were showing a hilarious YouTube Video. The Glittering of Newt Gingrich was a glorious form of non-violent and fabulous protest, and while this was not a gaffe on the behalf of Mr. Gingrich, he is now a political candidate in a world where events like this can and do happen, and everything is documented. It is a world where news of potential scandals like the unpaid Tiffany’s bills, or salacious trysts and past divorces will spread quickly and become engrained in social conscious, forever equated with Mr. Gingrich.
It is not merely that he was glittered or that he and his current wife have an outstanding balance at Tiffany’s or even that he has left past wives under dubious circumstances. It is that these occurrences will live forever on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and around the blogosphere.
Mr. Gingrich reached the height of his political clout and power during the 1990’s, a time that is light years away in respect to social media. Unlike a John McCain, recent Presidential candidate and long-time Senator, who has with varying degrees of success adapted to changing social, cultural, and technological developments, Mr. Gingrich disappeared. Think of it as if he was cryogenically frozen and then awaken decades later, forced to adapt to the new culture. Mr. Gingrich knows terms like Facebook and YouTube, but does not yet grasp the full power of social media.
There is really no ‘off-the-record,’ anymore in politics. Privacy only comes when surrounded by the most trusted of people, where neither a cell phone nor tape recorder is surreptitiously left turned on. Everything done in public must be done with the assumption that people will see and hear all. This is the current culture of the day, and unless you stayed in tune with the changes as they happened, by experiencing it on a day-to-day basis, you are unaware of the gravity of the situation.
Newt Gingrich left the political spotlight, but unlike his nemesis Bill Clinton, Mr. Gingrich is attempting to once again be a politician, while President Clinton has gone on to be a statesman. The difference is important as the latter is free to do as he pleases while rid of campaign promises, while the former has to be careful of every word and action.
Where Mr. Gingrich is unfortunate is that he hasn’t had to be in office or run for anything over the last decade. Campaigning for office on local or state level is great experience to learn the trials of social media, and even faux pas made on the federal level among Congressman don’t linger long in the 24-hour news cycle. To run for President, however, and not have a relevant campaign experience will doom any political mind, no matter how brilliant or once successful.
Donald Trump was in a similar circumstance as he considered a run for office. While it seems likely that he was in fact quite serious, he had his ‘glitter moment’ at the aforementioned Correspondent’s dinner. President Obama mercilessly roasted Mr. Trump, taking him apart bit by painful bit. No one really watches C-SPAN, but everyone watched the subsequent video on YouTube, where Mr. Trump had no means to counter and was left without clothes. He surely had to realize that he would become the center of attention in a way that he was not accustomed to; his thunderous voice would not be heard but instead his every action would be scrutinized and he too would be mocked and debased like every other candidate.
Every politician is prone to recorded gaffes, but those who are successful today have seen and experienced firsthand the ups and down of social media. Mr. Gingrich has fallen to Earth in 2011, unfamiliar with the virtual landscape, and unaware of how to interact with it.
In 1995, Time Magazine named Newt Gingrich Person of the Year for leading a Republican changing of the guard in the House of Representatives. Safe to say, in 2006 when Time named “You” as the Person of the Year in a nod to user-generated web content, Newt Gingrich wasn’t exactly the individual coming to mind.