Newt Gingrich's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has hit some rough patches in recent weeks. First his senior staff resigned en masse. Then his fundraising team did the same. Then, in the last two days, Gingrich told reporters that the consultants who resigned had left his campaign in debt and that he'd rely on volunteers rather than pricy consultants going forward. But Gingrich struck a much more upbeat tone on Google's new social network, Google+, today, writing that his "team" is considering how to use Hangouts, a group video chat feature, to discuss wonky subjects ranging from privatizing NASA to creating personal Social Security accounts. Since Hangouts are limited to 10 people, Gingrich explained, "the topics should be very narrow so as to attract people [who] care specifically about those issues."
The post has generated several enthusiastic responses from commenters suggesting topics for discussion. But others are skeptical. "I wouldn't think that a forum of 10 people is worth your time," one person wrote. "Perhaps saving it as a sharable video where you can reach a few more people."
Come to think of it, what is Gingrich doing on a beta social networking site? Gingrich has actually embraced social media throughout his campaign, alienating advisers who advocated more traditional grassroots strategies. He announced his candidacy on Twitter and YouTube and, only days ago, became the first presidential candidate to join Google+. Gingrich may simply recognize, in the wake of President Obama's 2008 campaign, how valuable new media is as a political communications tool. Or, as Jon Stewart suggested in May, Gingrich may be a "square" trying to act young and hip. The Washington Post suggests a third reason: money. In this "living-off-the-land phase" of his campaign, the paper writes, Gingrich "is trying to capitalize on what campaigns call 'free media,' appearing on Fox and talk radio as often as they'll book him." Google+ and Twitter may be part of that "free media" strategy. Indeed, in a recent radio interview, Gingrich noted that "we live in a country where you can have an amazingly effective grassroots campaign for about one percent of what the consultants would spend ... Facebook is free." And hey, his Google+ post caught our attention.
Here's the Daily Show clip of Jon Stewart ridiculing Gingrich's Twitter announcement: