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Suddenly It’s Newt

Slapstick depends on repetition. The clown always slips in the pile of elephant crap, inevitably walks into the ladder. By such standards Mitt Romney is now the undisputed slapstick king of America. About every four to six weeks the pundits shout out in unison, “That’s it. Finally. It’s a wrap for Romney!” But then, a week later here’s the pile of elephant crap, there’s the ladder, and down goes Mitt.

Just when the Mormon millionaire thought he’d got the nomination sewn up, the polls showed him still stuck at about 23 per cent with huge numbers of Republicans saying they didn’t trust the former governor of Massachusetts, that Mormons are in league with Satan, that he took his dog on holiday, tied to the roof of his car, that he’s a flip flopper, that he made his money firing people, that….   On and on.

So there was the Rick Perry challenge. The governor of Texas soared in the polls. He was a cert. Romney raged. Then Perry turned out to be a moron. Romney was on his feet again. A cert. But did his polling numbers surge? Nope. Stuck at 23 per cent and then came another pile of elephant crap, in the form of Herman Cain. Yes, Republicans told pollsters they liked his style, his feistiness, his 9-9-9 tax plan, and above all his consummate skill in not being Mitt Romney.

At this point, the pretty smart New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat got weary of the slapstick and stated categorically in his column on October 22 that “barring an unprecedented suspension of the laws of American politics, Mitt Romney has this thing wrapped up. Note that I am not saying that he will win every primary or caucus. He could easily lose Iowa to somebody, and if he loses Iowa, he will probably lose some Southern primaries as well, giving political reporters grist for the horse race narrative they crave. But Romney’s path to the nomination is more wide open than for any nonincumbent in decades. He should win New Hampshire and Nevada, Florida and Michigan. “

When it  emerged that Cain had some sexual harassment problems, plus a very tentative grasp of international affairs, it looked as though Douthat was entirely right – a wrap for Romney.  Inevitability lasted the precise length of time it took to get the elephant back in the ring again. Here we are at the start of December, and a political has-been, an adulterer who dictated harsh terms of divorce to a wife dying of cancer, who has pocketed millions from some of the  tackiest corporate lobbies in America, has now roared past Romney, who as usual is face down in elephant crap with the ladder on top on him.

If Republicans are prepared to bet on the has-been – former House speaker Newt Gingrich — it shows that  the most vehement diehards in America are the Republicans who will never, ever vote for Mitt Romney. There are millions of them.

So Newt is having his hour in the sun. Quite an hour. Nationally in the polls  of Republican candidates for the nomination, he’s leading Romney 26.6 to 20.4.  In Iowa, whose caucuses on January will kick off the year, Gingrich is  currently leading Romney 26.3 to 15.

Then, a week later, comes New Hampshire. Relief for Romney. Right now he’s leading Gingrich 36.2 to 19.6. But then on January 21 comes South Carolina. Gingrich currently polls 26.3, Romney, 17.7.

Next,  the big, all-important state of Florida – one of the  crucial swing states in the ultimate election next November. The elephant, please. Not since the robber baron  Henry Flagler blazed a path through Florida in the 19th century with his railroad has there been so triumphant a progress through the Sunshine state as Newt’s, fittingly so, since Florida is stuffed with hucksters. Newt a staggering 41 per cent, Romney 17, the sample being 600, questioned  by the Florida Times Union.

Back in October Douthat had  factored in a Newt surge: “Next week, perhaps, it will be Newt Gingrich’s surprising resilience or Ron Paul’s potential strength in the early caucuses or the appeal of Perry’s flat-tax plan. Then there will come a debate in which Mitt Romney looks shabby instead of smooth, a poll that shows one of his rivals surging, a moment when all his many weaknesses are on every pundit’s lips. Please do not listen to any of them.”

But maybe there has been one elephant, one pratfall too many. After some tetchy moments with interviewers, Romney is now being whacked for being unable to take a punch, for being a whiner, for being a guy who can’t get above 23 per cent, for a man who… but we’ll leave that joke to Gail Collins.

But can Gingrich survive any kind of resolute scrutiny? The answer is that in a world that didn’t contain Mitt Romney, probably not. This former college history teacher entered Congress  in 1978. His peak moment came in 1994  when Time magazine made him Man of the Year, for being the architect of being the prime mover in the ending of Democratic majority rule in the US Congress after forty years.

At this moment of supreme triumph, when he became Speaker of the House, Gingrich went into a long slide. Bill Clinton outsmarted him in a face-off over Gingrich’s threat to shut down government. Then he whined publicly about not getting a decent seat on Air Force One. Then he plunged  ever deeper into the mire of scandal. In  1997, the House of Representatives voted to discipline him for ethical wrongdoing, misusing charitable donations. He had to pay a a $300,000 penalty as part of a settlement . In 1998 he was reelected for an eleventh  term but resigned as speaker and as a member of Congress – in January 1999, suggesting that someone might have whispered in his ear that staying out of the slammer required immediate departure from the halls of Congress. Or maybe he just needed more money and decided that one dose of “ethical wrongdoing” charges from House colleagues was enough. He became a lobbyist.

Like another college lecturer, Barack Obama, Gingrich is a glib fellow. Unlike Perry, he’s got several answers to everything. He can take any side of a question. His past is disreputable in so many egregious ways that it is hard to see how the big Republican donors would want to invest substantial money in his campaign, except perhaps as insurance. His campaign organization is an utter mess. It’s surely a better than even bet that IEDs of scandal await detonation along his campaign trail.

But he’s not Mitt Romney. This year, that’s aooarently  a game changer. If Newt goes down, the Republicans will be left with the next in line in the polls – namely Ron Paul. Trouble is, Paul really does have principles, starting with a refusal to endorse torture, assassinations, abuses to the Constitution, including endless wars. That puts him out of the picture.

Our Latest Newsletter

It’s hot off the presses and indispensable reading. As part of our ongoing series on Obama’s record since he took over the Oval Office we have two detailed reports. The first is from a man CounterPunchers  know well – Bill Quigley. He’s a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans. Bill also serves as associate legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

He poses the question, “Is  there any fundamental difference between the Bush Obama presidencies in the area of domestic civil liberties?”  His answer? Well, we won’t give the answer away, but alas, it’s no cliffhanger. Bill gives 20 detailed examples of Obama’s civil rights record. They don’t make for pretty reading.

Flanking Quigley is another seasoned CounterPuncher – Dave Lindorff. He describes Obama’s original commitments to defend Social Security and Medicare and to produce real health-care  reform.  Then he lays out the sordid aftermath. These two articles are must-have documents in this campaign year.

Also, don’t miss Rebecca Gould’s absorbing polemic,

“Beyond Anti-Semitism.” Here’s how it begins:

“The last thing I want is to be called an anti-Semite,” an American friend confided, as we returned to Jerusalem after a daylong excursion to Hebron. We were gliding down the highway that stretched in front of us like a ribbon traversing the gaping darkness. I was so surprised by his words, offered in response to my question regarding why so many Israeli flags had to be hoisted above a road that cut through the heart of the Palestinian territories, that I had to ask for clarification. “I can’t make Israelis the enemy,” he explained. “I live with them. I speak Hebrew better than Arabic. They are my friends.”

I was less surprised by the timing of these comments than by their content, for they marked the culmination to lengthy pronouncements evincing entirely different sentiments, as we traveled between the cave villages surrounding Hebron. As soon as Israel was behind us, I became the captive audience to his unceasing reflections on the injustices attending Israeli’s occupation of Palestine, making up for many months of diplomatic silence. At every invitation, my friend was the first to point out that the greater balance of injustices lay on the Israeli side. This was a conflict, he said, marked by misinformation, deception, and fabrications of the past, and the winners were more culpable than the losers. “Israel exists only on subsidies,” he repeated tirelessly, stressing the violence the state of Israel had introduced into the economy of the Levant. By contrast, Palestine was an “artificially underdeveloped economy” forced into economic depression by Israel’s draconian policies.

And now, at the conclusion to a journey that had exposed me to a hitherto unknown aspect of an interlocutor I had believed to be unsympathetic to the Palestinian cause, he confessed his fear of being pegged as an anti-Semite…

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Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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