Florida voters bring Gingrich back to earth

Business Times - 02 Feb 2012

Florida voters bring Gingrich back to earth

Former House speaker's grandiose planetary vision fails to find much of an audience there


WELL, it seems that Republicans in Florida have not warmed up to Newt Gingrich's plan to establish an American colony on the moon during the next eight years and turn it into America's 51st state.

The former speaker of the House of Representatives had hoped to exploit the political momentum generated by his earlier victory in the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, and was trying to woo Floridians who work in the space industry in the state by pledging that 13,000 Americans would be living on the moon by the end of his second term as president. And, as president, he would grant them statehood.

But notwithstanding his grandiose planetary vision, Mr Gingrich was back on earth on Tuesday, after voters denied him victory in the Republican presidential primary in the Sunshine State. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney - who won close to 50 per cent of the vote - displayed renewed confidence that he would be elected as the party's presidential nominee at the convention that will take place in Florida in June.

Mr Gingrich compares himself to Ronald Reagan (he is Reagan's 'political heir', he insists), Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill (among others). Mr Gingrich also describes himself as an 'Ideas Man' and relishes in his grandiosity.

'You're right,' Mr Gingrich explained during a recent televised debate with the other Republican presidential candidates. 'I think grandiose thoughts,' he insisted, adding: 'This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects.'

In addition to his plan for establishing an American moon colony and a space station on Mars, Mr Gingrich, the former chairman of the 'Congressional Space Caucus', has also promoted the idea of placing a large number of mirrors in space that could provide extra light and allow 'farmers in high altitudes to plant their wheat earlier' and could be arranged to 'light metropolitan areas only during particular periods, so there would be darkness late at night for sleeping'.

When it comes to our own planet and the North American continent, Mr Gingrich has proposed a return to the gold standard and the employment of children as school janitors.

He thinks that 'people like me are what stands between us and Auschwitz (the Nazi-era death camp in Poland)'.

Mr Gingrich has bashed his political rivals as ideological fanatics and evil-doers. Hence, he described Mr Romney as a 'Massachusetts moderate'. Now he calls Mr Romney a 'Massachusetts liberal' and a 'vulture capitalist', and an 'anti-immigrants'.

Mr Gingrich says that President Barack Obama exhibits 'Kenyan, anti-colonial behaviour' and was 'outside our comprehension'.

Mr Gingrich argues that an intolerant 'elite' made up of 'secular judges and religious bigots' was trying to promote 'radical Islam over Christianity and Judaism', and he describes homosexuals as 'pagans'.

By 'going nuclear', as some pundits described Mr Gingrich's campaign rhetoric, the former House speaker has been capturing the imagination of some Tea-Party activists and religious fundamentalists in Florida who continue to regard Mr Romney as too moderate and too centrist for their ultra-conservative tastes.

At the same time, Mr Gingrich's pandering to backers of Israel helped him win the financial support of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire who owns casinos and hotels in Las Vegas and around the world and who is a radical Zionist.

But even if Mr Gingrich comes first in the primaries in some of the southern states where he is popular, it is inconceivable that he would succeed in winning the Republican nomination. If anything, Mr Romney has responded quite effectively to Mr Gingrich by using his organisational power and financial base. Mr Romney launched a series of television commercials aimed at exposing Mr Gingrich as a Washington insider and lobbyist.

Mr Romney's backers include the so-called 'Super-PACs' who can spend without any limits since they are funded by individuals and groups that are not listed as part of the candidate's campaign.

Moreover, the introverted and somewhat low-key Mr Romney has become more aggressive during the recent televised debates. He launched a feisty counter-attack against Mr Gingrich, recalling that the latter was forced to resign by his colleagues following revelations about his unethical conduct, and mocking the plan for a moon colony, during the second televised debate in Florida.

'If I had a business executive come to me and say I want to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say: You're fired,' said Mr Romney, a former business executive.

Indeed, Mr Romney's carpet bombing of Mr Gingrich has demolished him in Florida where the former speaker lost among all the major demographic groups, with the exception of very conservative voters. Mr Gingrich did especially badly among women - 51 per cent of them voted for Mr Romney. Female voters apparently empathised with Mr Gingrich's first two wives.

But Mr Gingrich is a very angry man who feels that he has been unfairly clobbered by Mr Romney and the Republican Party establishment.

Vengeful and relentless in his populist attacks on Mr Romney and the 'elites' in Wall Street and Washington, Mr Gingrich is promising to continue the challenge against the 'Massachusetts moderate' in all the coming primaries and caucuses and until the nominating convention in June.

The continuing civil war among the Republicans - and in particular, Mr Gingrich's vulture-capitalism criticism of Mr Romney - can only play into the hands of Mr Obama and the Democrats who want the American voters to perceive Mr Romney, the former financial executive, as a close ally of the elites in Wall Street and Washington. The Democrats want voters to identify the Republicans as political demagogues with grandiose but silly ideas. At the moment, the Republicans seem very obliging.

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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