GREENVILLE, SC — Newt Gingrich loves him a presidential debate. And 45 minutes down the road in Spartanburg Saturday, he and the rest of the field is going to take the stage once again.
The debates have been very, very good to Gingrich, so it’s unsurprising that around eight hours before the scheduled 8 PM kickoff of the CBS/National Journal/SC GOP forum at Wofford College tonight, Gingrich was on the stump talking about having more.
At a campaign stop at Furman University on the outskirts of Greenville, Gingrich held court at a gathering of college Republicans tailgating before the Paladins met the Phoenix from Elon on the football field. Near the end of his speech, Gingrich rolled out the idea he’s been pitching through the dark days of his candidacy and through its current resurgence.
“I’m here to promise you: if you will help me to become the nominee, in my nomination speech, if the president has not yet agreed to seven three-hour debates, I will announce that as of that moment the White House is my scheduler. Wherever he goes, I will show up. Because this is the modern era, I will show up four hours later and without a teleprompter I will rebut his speech. For every single day of the campaign if needed until he agrees to the debates.”
Gingrich has been selling GOP primary voters on the value of Lincon-Douglass style debates for a long while now. On Saturday as other days he also promised to pick up Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 tactic of following Stephen Douglass around and speaking the day after him until, Gingrich explained, Douglass agreed to debate him. (Lincoln went on to lose the Senate election against Douglass, but it’s assumed Gingrich expects a different outcome if he’s the GOP nominee and chases Obama across the country.)
It’s not just Obama Gingrich wants to debate — it’s everyone, all the time. Cain spokesman R.C. Hammond chatted with TPM a bit after Gingrich’s speech and said the campaign has suggested more of the one-on-one debates Gingrich held with Herman Cain recently. Hammond suggested a round robin system where names would be drawn out of a hat and pitted against each other one on one each night for, say, a week.
“Give it more of a March Madness feel,” Hammond said, “though we’re not going to vote anyone off the island.”
It’s clear other candidates vying for the top tier of the nomination fight are not as interested in talking about more debates as Team Gingrich is. Rick Perry openly talked about backing out of debates even before that “oops” debacle. In Mauldin, SC yesterday, Romney underestimated the number of debates left on primary calendar by about 10, a sign that he may be over debating, too.
The debates have given Gingrich a chance to recast himself as the tough guy after the epic faceplant that was his first week on the campaign trail. But Gingrich also just loves debating, Hammond said — he suggested Gingrich would be up for many, many more even if he was the frontrunner.
His prowess on the debate stage has become his calling card. As fortune would have it, the Southeastern Women in Politics — a group focused on getting more women elected to public office in the Palmetto State — was holding a campaign school during Gingrich’s speech, and several of the women participating came out to have a look and offer up some punditry over barbecue at the tailgate.
“The debate system is wonderful,” Institute board member Barbara Rackes told TPM. “You have to see how people will perform under pressure.”
Gingrich, she said, was a master. It seemed pretty clear he didn’t have her vote, but he certainly had her respect.
“Whatever I will do at the polls, it’s good to see Gingrich,” Rackes said. “Because he’s so good at stirring the pot.”