fresh voices from the front lines of change







It looks like the old joke about the weather — “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change” — is also true about Newt Gingrich. If you don’t like this Newt Gingrich, wait five minutes and he’ll change. When it comes to his attack on Mitt Romney’s vulture capitalist past, Newt has changed more often than the weather these last few days.

When last we looked in on him, Newt seemed to have buyer’s remorse about the 28-minute anti-Romney video his Super PAC spent millions getting and airing in South Carolina. After first trying to have it both ways — distancing himself from the attack on Wednesday morning, and then doubling down on it Wednesday evening — and then blaming the whole mess on President Obama, Newt ended last week by calling the Newt-friendly Super PAC to either edit the video or yank it off the internet.

(The irony is Newt’s Super PAC doesn’t have to do anything Newt asks. That’s the nature of the very beast that Newt helped create. Super PAC’s are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates or political parties. Sure, Newt’s Super PAC is run by his former employees, just like Romney’s, he’s not the boss of them anymore.)

Well, here’s hoping Newt’s Super PAC friends haven’t already started slashing the video, because Newt changed his mind again. Right out of the gate, at the most recent GOP debate, Newt went on record defending the same anti-Romney attacks he denounced, defended, and then denouced again last week.

The first question at Monday’s GOP debate was directed at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was asked why he was directing so many attacks at former Gov. Mitt Romney’s business record — which sounded like criticisms being put forward by Democrats.

“Well, first of all, I think that the staying positive through Iowa — through three and a half million dollars of negative attacks — prove you either have to unilaterally disarm and leave the race, or bring up your competitors’ record,” said Gingrich, reminding the audience that Romney and the independent super PAC backing him aggressively went after Gingrich during the Iowa caucuses.

Gingrich pointed out that Romney is the one who brought up his record at Bain Capital, and therefore, “if that’s a part of your campaign, then questioning it has to be equally legitimate.”

“It struck me raising those questions, giving me an opportunity to answer them is exactly what campaigns ought to be about,” he added. “And we need to satisfy the country that whoever we nominate has a record that can stand up to Barack Obama in a very effective way.”

Newt went on to defend himself against Republicans who have attacked him for attacking Romney, and legitimize questioning the role of vulture capitalism in the economy.

“First of all, I don’t think raising questions is a prerogative only of Barack Obama, and I don’t think Republicans should automatically be intimidated because every time you raise a question somebody yells you are doing something the Democrats do. I raise questions that I think are legitimate questions — some of which came out of Wall Street Journal articles. The governor has every opportunity to answer those questions and give us facts and data and that’s part of his responsibility as a candidate, and I think that’s part of what a campaign is about, is to raise questions and see whether your competitor can answer them effectively, before you get to a general election where you know those questions are going to be asked.”

It’s getting to the point where Newt’s beginning to resemble a cartoon character with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, who can’t decide which to listen to. I’m not sure there’s an angel on either Gingrich’s shoulders, but he’s looking and sounding more and more like a man who’s torn between wanting some revenge for Romney’s equally truthful attacks on him, and his party’s reluctance to have a high-profile conservative like Gingrich raising legitimate questions for which Republicans have no answers.

If everything I’ve been reading is even partially true, Newt has really stepped in it this time maybe over his head, but certainly deeper than he knew or cared to know before he jumped in with both feet. Newt says that “extremely wealthy organizations” have pressured him to back off the Bain bashing. But I suspect that’s got him spooked. Conservatives may be torn over defending Romney and opposing Romney, but they are totally freaked out by the Pandora’s box Newt opened up.

They’re freaked because, like I said earlier, Newt practically steered the whole party into the perfect storm, and they know it. Romney’s vulture capitalism is just part a national discussion about economic inequality and a majority of Americans now see economic inequality as major source of conflict. That’s a conversation Republicans just aren’t prepared to join. They just can’t, and they’re mad at Newt for turning the national conversation to a problem they have no plans to solve.

Gingrich, Perry, and others are putting particular focus on the people who lost their jobs as a result of Romney’s Bain Capital. Gingrich’s Super PAC will be running $3.5 million of ads featuring emotional interviews with some of them.

But what, exactly, are Romney’s opponents proposing to do about layoffs that harm so many people? Millions of Americans have lost their jobs over the last four years and as a result have often lost their health insurance, their homes, and their savings.

Are Gingrich, Perry, and others proposing to expand health insurance coverage for jobless Americans and their families? All I hear from the Republicans is their determination to repeal the law that President Obama championed which still leaves millions of Americans uninsured. Do Romney’s opponents have plans to keep people in their homes even when theyve lost their jobs and cant pay their mortgages? No. Do they propose expanding unemployment insurance? If memory serves, most of them were opposed to the last extension.

Im all in favor of reforming capitalism, but you’ll permit me some skepticism when it comes to criticisms of Bain Capital coming from Romney’s Republican opponents. None of these Republican candidates has exactly distinguished himself with new ideas for giving Americans more economic security. To the contrary until the assault on Romney and Bain Capital every one of them has been a cheerleader for financial capitalism of the most brutal sort.

They’re mad because they’ve been forced not so much into defending Romney (because, honestly, they still don’t like the guy very much) but they’ve been forced to defend vulture capitalism, a monster they helped create, at the precise moment when the race for the GOP nomination heads for some of the places most ravaged by it.

…Can you blame them for not wanting to talk about that, or for being mad at Newt for almost forcing them to talk about it?

It looks like Gingrich isn’t done raising questions his party isn’t equipped to answer, and has no real intention of answering, any more than he’s done proving everything his opponents have said about his petulant, mercurial temperament — more suited to making the kind of mischief he’s stirring up in the GOP primaries than leading the country as commander in chief.

Just like the weather, Newt will no doubt change his mind again on his now epic attack on Romney’s vulture caplitaism. Give him five minutes, and he’ll probably denounce, defend, and denounce it again.


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