Newt loving his role (for now) as Republican frontrunner


Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are sniping at each other as they jostle for the lead before the first vote for the Republican nomination, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

IT’S MITT and Newt, Newt and Mitt – for the time being, at least. The Republican frontrunners displayed their arrogance and attacked each other in television interviews this week.

The former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took credit for America’s shift to more conservative economics and the fall of communism. “I helped Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp develop supply side economics,” Gingrich boasted on Fox News. “I helped lead the effort to defeat communism.”

The statement was an insult to Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II, said the MSNBC talk show host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough.

On earlier occasions, Gingrich has compared himself to Gen Charles de Gaulle and boasted to journalists that he was a “world historical transformational figure”.

Gingrich gloated at his seemingly miraculous rise in opinion polls. “You’re talking to a guy who was dead in June,” he said. His campaign staff had resigned en masse after he spent half a million dollars on jewellery at Tiffany’s and abandoned campaigning to take a Greek cruise with his wife Callista.

“I’m now being attacked by the former frontrunner,” he exulted, referring to the former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.

In recent weeks, it has emerged that Gingrich received up to $1.8 million from the government- backed mortgage agency Freddie Mac. He had earlier suggested that politicians who were chummy with Freddie should be jailed.

The New York Timesand the Washington Postdelved into records of the Center for Health Transformation, which Gingrich founded after leaving office in 1999, and found he had raked in $55 million by charging healthcare companies up to $200,000 a year to curry favour on their behalf with state and federal officials.

This was not lobbying, Gingrich swore on Fox News. His enemies “want to say, ‘Isn’t that lobbying’?” he said. “No, it’s called being a citizen. As a citizen, I’m allowed to have an opinion.”

In Iowa, which will formally open the Republican race on January 3rd, fliers have recently circulated reminding voters that Gingrich twice left a wife for a mistress. Romney hopes religious voters will forget his Mormonism and be impressed by his marriage of 42 years and five sons.

Yet even as the African- American former pizza magnate Herman Cain stumbles over allegations of sexual misconduct, Republicans seem to overlook Gingrich’s past philandering.

A November 16th Fox News poll showed that 35 per cent of ultra-conservative Tea Party voters support Gingrich; only 15 per cent support Romney.

Gingrich is ahead of Romney in all but one – New Hampshire – of the Real Clear Politics averages for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, the first four states where Republicans will vote next month.

Gingrich’s emergence as the most convincing anti-Romney candidate may explain why Romney was so ill-tempered in his interview with Fox News this week.

Despite Fox’s reputation as the mouthpiece of the conservative right, its interviewer Brett Baier dared ask him the obvious question: “Your critics charge that you make decisions based on political expediency and not core convictions . . .”

Romney had flip-flopped on climate change, abortion, immigration and gay rights, Baier continued. “How can voters trust what they hear from you today is what you will believe if you win the White House?”

“Well, Bret, your list is just not accurate. So, one, we’re going to have to be better informed about my views on issues,” Romney bristled. He then sought to tar Gingrich with the same flip- flopper brush, recalling the TV advertisement that Gingrich made with Democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, a hate figure for many on the right.

“I’ve watched other people on the stage when they talk about their cap-and-trade policies,” Romney said irritably. “When someone says, ‘Oh, I did this ad on global warming, that was a mistake’, so they’ve just brushed it aside.” Gingrich has called the video he shot with Pelosi “the dumbest mistake I ever made”.

Romney portrays Gingrich as a “Beltway lifer” – a Washington insider – and he hopes that other Republican candidates will tear Gingrich down for him.

Texas representative Ron Paul obliged with a vitriolic campaign video this week, in which he calls Gingrich a “counterfeit conservative” who is guilty of “serial hypocrisy” on issues such as climate change and Medicare.