Newt Gingrich said Thursday night that if President Barack Obama declines his challenge to seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates, he will follow the president everywhere he goes and rebut Obama’s remarks after he makes them.
His inspiration, Gingrich said, is Abraham Lincoln, who followed Stephen Douglas when he shied away from debating him.
If Obama ducks debating him, Gingrich said, “I will announce that as of this evening, the White House will be my scheduler, and wherever the president goes I will show up four hours later to respond to his speech.”
Lincoln adopted this strategy in his 1858 race against Douglas in order to draw attention to his own arguments against the incumbent’s position on the extension of slavery. As Douglas travelled throughout Illinois and drew crowds of listeners, Lincoln tagged along to deliver his own rebuttals, either in the evening or on the following day.
One state newspaper called the tactic “desperate,” but Lincoln was committed to mounting a vigorous opposition. As the less prominent candidate, Lincoln knew that he stood to gain from engaging Douglas publicly, which is one reason why Douglas was reluctant to agree to Lincoln’s eventual proposal for a series of formal debates.
Although Douglas prevailed in the Senate race, he knew that Lincoln would be a formidable opponent, saying, “I shall have my hands full…if I beat him, my victory will be hardly won.” And it was.