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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Last weekend, Newt Gingrich strutted into an overflow crowd of people waiting for him at the Wiregrass Museum in Dothan, Ala., and greeted them with an insult.

“What a crowd,” he said. “I’m really impressed. There must be no one left at Wal-Mart this afternoon.”

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what Gingrich was willing to say to the majority of Alabamians who didn’t support him.

I first heard about Gingrich’s comment during a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon with Bill Perkins, editor of the Dothan Eagle. I later discovered that Fox News also had reported it on its website.

“Everybody was all set to applaud him,” Perkins told me. Instead, the applause was tentative, and there were a few howls, too.

Perkins shared a prediction: “I don’t think Newt is getting traction here.”

Hours later, the primary results confirmed Perkins’ hunch. Rick Santorum — the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania — had won.

That would be the same Rick Santorum who said earlier this week, “We’ve been running a marathon breathing through a swizzle stick.” Finally, we have an explanation for why he’s been running a campaign to alienate every thinking woman in America. Quick, get that man some oxygen.

When I heard about Gingrich’s Wal-Mart crack, my head hurt, and my heart ached. He tends to have that effect on me in general, but this time, my grievances were more specific.

For one thing, I couldn’t help but think of those awful videos ricocheting around the Internet, the ones full of images ridiculing poor and working-class Americans photographed shopping at Wal-Mart. One of the lowest forms of entertainment is to make fun of vulnerable and unsuspecting people from afar. I’ve got all kinds of objections to Wal-Mart, but none of them has to do with the people who need cheap prices to survive.

Gingrich’s comment felt personal, too, because it’s been my good fortune to suddenly know a lot more people who live in Alabama.

I was there last week to deliver the annual Ayers Lecture at Jacksonville State University. Before my arrival, I was assured that the crowded room where I was scheduled to speak would include many people who disagreed with me on any number of issues.