So now Donald Trump has finally announced what nearly everyone had assumed for some time: His monotonous, one-issue presidential campaign is in fact over. This is good news indeed. It was a repugnant political sideshow, notable for exciting the most fanatical and bigoted fringe of the Republican party, highlighted by his rants questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency.
But now, with Trump returning to the low-scrutiny role of television reality show impresario (we’ll get back to him shortly), we’re left with another troubling Republican presidential aspirant. As Trump exited the presidential stage, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, boldly and clumsily entered it. Now we’re being treated to yet another colorful, intolerant and self-contradictory candidacy.
Just days after officially declaring his candidacy for president, there was Gingrich dubbing Barack Obama as “the first food stamp president,” immediately reiterating his view of the nation’s first Black chief executive as “the most successful food stamp president in American history.” To add fuel to this fire of insensitivity, Gingrich also offered his support for some thoroughly draconian ideas about altering voting laws, ideas that evoke memories of the exclusionary poll requirements of the era before the Civil Rights Movement. While Gingrich may not spew the vitriolic birther ravings of Donald Trump, he is nonetheless the candidate who has described Obama’s foreign policy as “factually insane,” reflecting a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” perspective.
When David Gregory, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” pointedly questioned Gingrich about statements that might well be seen as racially tinged, the former speaker feigned shock, assuming the role of the victim. “This kind of automatic reference to racism–this is the president of the United States,” Gingrich said. “The president of the United States has to be held accountable. Now, the idea that–and what I said is factually true. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans is on food stamps. And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.”
This is part of his long history of slinging insensitive comments and championing damaging policies, not to mention his history of shocking personal hypocrisy. Can we forget that Gingrich was the House leader condemning Bill Clinton’s moral failings at the time the speaker himself was immersed in his own marital infidelities amid two divorces?
Furthermore, Gingrich, as with Trump, presents a candidacy where there is no clear sense of what the candidate really believes. Just as Trump changed his view on abortion–from supporting it to opposing it–so, too, has Gingrich changed on other topics.
He once supported the model of a national health care program that is virtually identical to the one signed into law by President Obama. He now says he opposes that law because it contains the very features he endorsed on national television as recently as Sunday. Meanwhile, Gingrich has enraged his Republican colleagues on the right with his criticism of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan, a move that seems to be undoing his already dim presidential prospects.
And so we’ve traded one insensitive Republican candidacy designed to stoke the flames of fear and intolerance for another. But, in many ways, Gingrich is more dangerous than Trump because political pundits in mainstream media have dubbed him the “intellectual” and the “policy wonk,” monikers that could create the illusion that his statements are well-considered–no matter how inane or politically expedient they may really be.
Meanwhile, Trump says he will return to overseeing the important world of “Celebrity Apprentice.” It’s not a moment too soon. The discussions in cyberspace calling for a boycott of his show were already reaching a feverish pitch. Perhaps Gingrich will find himself “fired” from serious consideration in the Republican primary due to his series of gaffs and flip-flops this week.
If not, the subtle–and not-so-subtle–race-baiting is certain to continue, and just as certain to be denied. It may be good politics, but it’s bad for America.