Now it can be told: The source I spoke with a week ago tonight from Key West, who called Mitt Romney a “plastic banana rock ‘n’ roller,” was Bob McAlister — communications consultant, former chief of staff to Gov. Carroll Campbell, occasional op-ed writer par excellence, and former blogger.
I called him this evening because he appears to be part of an interesting trend. Rick Perry threw his support to Gingrich. Huntsman did not, yet several of his key supporters seem to be breaking for Gingrich, too. Bob is one of them.
One element in Bob’s decision is what he sees as Romney’s phoniness. “That Ken and Barbie exterior.” Which means roughly the same thing as the plastic banana description (which, although I thought he’d made it up himself, Bob acknowledges having lifted from Rush Limbaugh).
So, I asked, what decided him in favor of Gingrich?
“The debates made up my mind for me.”
“I have never seen a candidate for public office own a debate the way he did the last few.”
Bob views this with an expert eye, having “prepped a lot of candidates” for debates himself over the years. But no one he ever coached performed like this.
He repeated to me the observation he shared when I called him last week, before he had made up his mind — that the relationship between Gingrich and the other candidates on the stage is like that between a professor and his students. He says the former speaker displays “an uncanny knowledge of every issue thrown at him.”
There’s something else operating here, however, beyond professional appreciation. There’s a relish for Newt’s combativeness. Bob liked that “he didn’t take any crap from the liberal media. He threw it right back at them.” He would like to have a president who doesn’t take… grief… from either such domestic adversaries or “our international enemies.”
Realizing how he had juxtaposed the the media and, say, terrorist states, Bob laughed and said, “I’m not necessarily equating the two, by the way.”
But he remains enthusiastic about Gingrich: “He’s tough; he’s resolute; he is absolutely brilliant.”
Now, before my more liberal correspondents here decide that Bob is the sort they would never wish to meet, let me run counter to your expectations and assert that you are wrong. I think if you spent enough time talking with him to gain each others’ trust, you would get along fine. When I first worked with Bob when he was Campbell’s communications director, there was a distinct wariness on his part. But somehow I earned his trust, and I found him to be a guy who was straight with me, and we got on fine. We’ve had occasion to work together on community projects since those days — such as the local board of Habitat for Humanity — and have become friends.
Those who appreciate this blog have reason to thank him. When I was laid off from the paper, Bob took me to lunch. When I told him I’d bought this domain from GoDaddy, he volunteered to host me for a year. I’m quite grateful for that.
And while I was appalled at some of the very elements in last night’s debate that pleased Bob, I can see his way of looking at it. Leading off the debate — a debate, after all, for president of the United States, an office that actually deals with some pretty significant public policy issues — with that question was obnoxious, and unnecessary. Bob thought of the questioner, and the school of thought he represents, as deserving a comeuppance. Newt delivered. I don’t disagree. The difference is that in my view, Gingrich’s rebuke was entirely over the top, and revelatory of a temperament that is entirely inappropriate in one who would hold that office. And I found the self-serving nature of his whipping up the crowd’s resentment toward news media as, quite frankly, contemptible.
So we’re not going to agree there. But we can agree on something else, something that seems just as important to Bob as Gingrich’s poise, breadth of knowledge and combativeness: the fact that he doesn’t come across as a phony.
I see that as an element in why different people like Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. All have a naturalness, a humanity (often with all the weakness that humanity implies) that Romney fails to project.
Bob’s gotten to know Gingrich recently, and “from everything I can see, he’s the real deal.” And I think he’s right. I don’t think Newt Gingrich would exert an iota of energy in trying to pretend to be something he is not. Newt is too pleased with who he is to make the effort. But that’s the way I see him, which is not quite the same as my friend Bob McAlister does.