It’s beginning to look like when Haley Barbour shuffled off into the Mississippi sunset, saying he just couldn’t commit to a 10-year presidential crusade, he left his draft campaign playbook sitting on a garbage can, and Newt Gingrich picked it up. Barbour, you’ll recall, was trying out a new approach to race in the Obama era: Jim Crow wasn’t “that bad,” the white-supremacist White Citizens Councils kept down the KKK, and nobody could make him denounce an effort by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to dedicate a license plate to KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, either. “I don’t go around denouncing people,” declared the man who denounced Democrat Ronnie Musgrove for efforts to remove the Confederate flag from Mississippi’s state flag. I said at the time that Barbour was trying out the notion that post-Obama, people — particularly white people leaning Republican — are ready for an approach that says let’s quit all this whining about racism, it wasn’t that bad, it’s time to get back to the business of cutting taxes for the rich and programs for the poor.
Well, Newt Gingrich seems to have wandered by the garbage can to pick up Barbour’s draft playbook, and it’s all unfolding as planned. He’s getting hit for calling President Obama “the food stamp president”; even David Gregory heard the racial imagery in the term, given the way Republicans have long loved to associate welfare programs with black people. Ronald Reagan famously railed against Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying “T-bone steaks” with food stamps; Barbour actually praised Head Start, because some of the kids in it “would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now.” I called Gingrich’s remarks “coded racism” yesterday, and today right-wingers were up in arms, pointing out that most food stamp recipients are white. This is absolutely true of most welfare programs, which is why the GOP association of welfare with black people has always seemed, well, racist.
But let me be clear: I might not have paid attention to Gingrich’s “food stamp president” jibe had it not come along with a panorama of images designed to make clear Barack Obama is blackity black black. Praising right-wing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Gingrich said he’ll make the U.S. more like Texas, while Obama only “knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit.” In the speech to Georgia Republicans where he tried out the “food stamp president” slur, Gingrich also told the bastion of the old Confederacy that 2012 would be the biggest election since 1860 — you know, when Abraham Lincoln got elected and the South began to secede over slavery, commencing the Civil War. He also suggested the U.S. might need to bring back some kind of voting test, banned under the Voting Rights Act. Last year, of course, Gingrich denounced Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonialist behavior,” which made him “outside our comprehension” as Americans, spreading the lie that Obama inherited angry African anti-colonialism from his absent African father, though he was raised by his white mother and grandparents. Oh, and he headed the drive to label Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor “racist” when she was nominated in 2009.
So let’s review: Welfare slur? Check. Tie to a troubled, mainly black city? Check. Specious association with African anti-colonialism? Check. Dire reference to Lincoln and the start of the Civil War, while campaigning deep in the heart of Dixie? Check. Suggestion we need a voter test? Check. Oh, and for good measure, calling liberals concerned about racial injustice “racist”? Check. Awesome: They’ve hit pretty much every way the GOP has used to divide Americans by race in the last 200 years!
Great job, Newt. You’ve developed the perfect platform to run a spirited GOP campaign that attracts a cadre of aggrieved white people. You’ll never be president of the United States, but you’ll be the champion of the declining share of the country that still thrills to what we used to call dog-whistle politics: coded varieties of racism only understood by their intended audience. And all the efforts by Gingrich defenders to claim I’m the racist are just funny. One of Andrew Breitbart’s minions is leading the charge, and he lamented Monday morning on Twitter: “Would prefer to hammer Newt today over throwing Ryan under the bus, but @joanwalsh, @davidgregory, & @ebertchicago had to go & do this.” (Roger Ebert was kind enough to Tweet my Sunday Gingrich story.)
I’d advise the Breitbart gang to get back to hammering Gingrich over Paul Ryan’s politically suicidal budget plan; they should focus on the shard of people who want to debate whether Gingrich or Ryan is the leader who can lead their party off a cliff. Anyway, they’ve mistaken me for someone who cares what they have to say. Gingrich is doubling down on racial politics, and I’m going to continue to call it out when I see it.
Oh, and this is one in an occasional series of pieces on folks who will never be president, which began when Sarah Palin unraveled over the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. I didn’t get to Barbour or Mike Huckabee; they realized they would never be president all on their own. It seems silly to write the same piece on Donald Trump; it’s like saying “pigs will never fly.” But I’m sure there will be a few more to come.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 16, 2011
Farewell Donald Trump. For a brief moment last month, his birther buffoonery powered him to the front of the Republican pack. What a difference a birth certificate, a death announcement, and serious treatment by the press make. Now The Donald has announced that as with his previous presidential flirtations he is not making this race. Suddenly he looks like one of the celebrity has-beens who gets fired on his television show—or worse, like a celebrity has-been who doesn’t actually get onto the show at all.
Trump peaked in mid-April when a survey from the Democratic group Public Policy Polling set him as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, with 26 percent of the vote. Then reality intruded. The press went from treating him like a celebrity making silly noises about running to treating him like a genuine would-be candidate, checking out who he contributed to and fact-checking his weird claims. Then Obama’s long form birth certificate put an end to birtherism while Osama bin Laden’s violent end reminded us that there are monsters in the real world and that the presidency is for serious people, not reality TV blowhards.
Public Policy Polling’s survey last week had Trump at 8 percent, in a fifth place tie with Ron Paul.
But with Trump-mentum ended, where can we hope to find entertainment value in the GOP primary field? The answer is, where can’t you? Donald Trump, entertainer-turned-pol was never going to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. But neither will the other maybes and might-want-tos.
Take Newt Gingrich, whose announcement video last week said we should “look reality in the face, [and] tell the truth.” The truth and the reality are that Gingrich is an abrasive bomb thrower who resigned his speakership after his colleagues, and most voters, had enough of him, not the profile swing voters usually latch onto. His disapproval rating when he left office was 70 percent and was still as high as 38 percent as recently as last summer. And Gingrich, a self-styled historian, is fighting history. Only once has a former speaker of the house made the transition to the White House. That, NBC’s Chuck Todd notes, was James Polk in 1844. And not since James Garfield in 1880 has a politician achieved the White House having only served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Newt is not alone with this problem, of course. Sitting Rep. Michele Bachmann seems happy to conflate her fanatical Tea Party following with actual broad-based support. But again her lack of experience in winning even a statewide office in Minnesota makes one wonder whether she’s drinking tea or Kool-Aid. For sheer “what is he thinking” chutzpah, however, it’s hard to beat Rick Santorum, whose last act in American politics ended when the voters of his home state of Pennsylvania fired him from the U.S. Senate. I can think of one modern politician who won the White House after losing his last previous election, and Richard Nixon is not a figure whose mantel many GOPers lay claim to these days.
Sure Newt, Bachmann, and Santorum are members of the GOP presidential B Team, but is the A Team much more impressive? You could have made an argument for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, before he announced this weekend that he would not run. The best that can be said of Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, is that he is inoffensive (read: bland), while the worst that can be said of 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is that she’s . . . Sarah Palin.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels commented last week that “the chances [of his beating Obama] would actually be quite good.” Apparently channeling some Trump-ian bombast, he added that, “The quality and the number of people who have said they’d like to be associated is really quite awesome to me.” Also awesome is the idea of someone running as a gimlet-eyed spending hawk whose previous job before governor was as George W. Bush’s budget chief. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “By themselves, in fact, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for almost half of the $20 trillion in debt that, under current policies, the nation will owe by 2019.”
Then there’s Mitt Romney, who Thursday made his highest profile attempt to explain why the healthcare law he passed while governor of Massachusetts, with an individual mandate, is good, but the national-level version of it, signed by Barack Obama, is bad. Romney’s dilemma: He can’t embrace the individual mandate because conservatives don’t like it any more at the state level than they do at the federal one. But he also can’t repudiate it lest he feed the political chameleon image that led the Democratic National Committee to tout “Mitt Romney, Version 5.0.”
The most damning illustration of the state of the GOP field may have come in a Politico report noting that virtually the only issue the contenders agree on is that “Sharia law is a continuing threat to the United States.”
One can’t help but look forward to the GOP nominee explaining that urgent threat in a general election debate while standing next to the president who got bin Laden.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 16, 2011