NASHUA, N.H. – Yesterday morning, at Newt Gingrich’s first town hall of the day, I sent out this tweet.
I was one of twenty or so reporters in the room, but according to Dylan Byers I was first to tweet it. He points out that I changed it slightly to hit 140 characters. The actual quote was:
So I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.The phrasing doesn’t change the content, which has been wildly misconstrued – seemingly by people who haven’t paid close attention to Gingrich. Back in the summer, when fewer people were paying attention to his campaign, Gingrich had started calling Obama “the best food stamp president in American history.” Back in 2010, at Republican rallies and in columns, Gingrich was calling the Democrats the “food stamp party.” Gingrich has been using this frame for a while, and he’s used it despite the predictable moans from liberals that by discussing food stamps he MUST be dog-whistling to voters who think minorities are getting handouts. But in 2010 and 2011, Gingrich didn’t say he was going to bring this message to black people, specifically. This was why his remarks on Thursday piqued my interest. A quick Nexis search – admittedly, Nexis hasn’t been printing every transcript of every Newt speech – finds no examples of Gingrich saying he’ll explain paychecks/food stamps at the NAACP’s convention, and no example of Gingrich connecting food stamps/paychecks to black people specifically. “Hrm,” I thought. “This is new.” My telepathy isn’t as developed as I’d like it to be, but the way I heard this was that Gingrich, who spent years being attacked as a racist – over welfare reform, over tax cuts, etc and etc – was pre-empting any arguments about his motives. He had an idea that would be good for black people; the media would call it racist; he would take it right to black voters. He was aiming for a nerve with Republicans who frequently ask why black voters, suffering from an unemployment rate that’s twice the national average, like Barack Obama so much. I wanted to see what the rest of the press made out of it, assuming some sort of point-and-sputter reaction. Indeed: We got lots of stories about the quote, not much context, largely because the NAACP was happy to turn this into a he-said he-said about race. This might have been Gingrich’s mistake – like Chris Darden asking O.J. Simpson to put on the glove, he invited a second party into the discussion without knowing whether it would prove him right or not.