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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A surging Newt Gingrich maintained his composure in the face of a renewed assault from Mitt Romney at the Republican presidential debate Monday night, aggressively defending Medicare in a state where the ethos of the Tea Party — a group that is demographically dominated by older white voters who tend to support public benefits for those who they believe have earned them — is especially powerful.

In a sprawling 90 minute discussion that touched on everything from the Terri Schiavo case to cane sugar subsidies to the threat posed by Cuba as a potential launching pad for terrorist attacks on the United States, Romney went hard after Gingrich on his tenure as Speaker, his ethics violations, and his role as a “lobbyist” for GOP boogieman Freddie Mac.

“The Speaker was given the opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994, and after four years he resigned in disgrace,” Romney said.

But instead of responding with venom, like he did during his triumphant march through South Carolina, Newt slowed down the tempo of his voice and smirked at Mitt’s honed, repeated attacks.

“I think Gingrich kept his cool,” said Ed Rollins, the Republican strategist who managed Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign before briefly leading Michele Bachmann’s abortive bid last year. “I don’t think Romney scored any points. When you freeze a campaign where it is, and Gingrich has the momentum, he benefits.”

Romney looked like he might have success getting under Gingrich’s skin when he brought up the former Speaker’s support for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, derided by many conservatives as an expansion of big government when the Bush Administration signed it into law in 2003.

“If you’re getting paid by health companies, if your entities are getting paid by health companies that could benefit from a piece of legislation, and you then meet with Republican congressmen and encourage them to support that legislation, you can call it whatever you’d like,” Romney said. “I call it influence-peddling.”

Gingrich, sensing an opening, turned to the crowd.

“I have always publicly favored a stronger Medicare program,” he roared in his most fiery moment of the evening. “I am proud of the fact that I publicly advocated Medicare Part D. It has saved lives. It’s run on a free enterprise model.” Florida has a disproportionately large population of seniors and Medicare is a frequent bludgeon in national campaigns there.

(Gingrich has a history of support for proposals that would change Medicare into a voucher program.)

Extensive surveys conducted by Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol and two graduate student colleagues have convincingly demonstrated that Tea Party membership is composed in large part of elderly white people who oppose public benefits flowing to illegal immigrants but are in fact quite supportive of programs like Social Security and Medicare that they believe to help legitimately “deserving” Americans.

In what was perhaps the most surprising exchange of the night, Gingrich and anti-government crusader Rep. Ron Paul — who did not get along with Newt when they served in Congress together and has spent much of the campaign attacking the former Speaker — found common ground when they had a friendly discussion about pegging the dollar to price of gold. Paul’s libertarian dogma has provided much of the rhetorical foundation for the Tea Party’s economic message, and his book “End The Fed” takes some of the harshest criticisms of the U.S. central bank to their logical conclusion. Gingrich touted his support for something called a “Gold Commission,” which would “look at the whole concept of how do we get back to hard money.”

“There’s an area of the Tampa-bay area, the I-4 corridor, Hillsborough, Polk counties; those are folks sympathetic to a Federal Reserve message,” said Rick Wilson, a veteran Florida-based GOP consultant. “It’s a Tea Party hotbed. And obviously that’s an area where Paul might perform pretty strongly. He [Newt] might as well try to cherry pick some of that.”

Rollins went so far as to suggest Paul could theoretically throw his delegates behind Gingrich down the line.

“No animosity there, just a difference of opinion,” he said of Gingrich and Paul. “If for any reason, they could make a merger further along, he [Paul] could give his delegates potentially to Gingrich. Certainly, he’d more inclined I think to support Gingrich than he would be Romney.”

Gingrich did not blow away Republican viewers the way he did in the last debate before his victory in the South Carolina primary. Strong performances like that one have helped the former Speaker compensate for a campaign with far less money to spend on TV ads than Romney. But Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire who recently donated $5 million to the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future, reportedly contributed another $5 million (via his wife) on Monday, injecting new life into what was until recently Newt’s longshot bid to claim the Republican nomination for a “bold Reagan conservative.”

Here’s a video of the debate’s highlights:

  • Dominick

    Newt is a master debater and a smart politician who does not hesitate to pander to the whims of an audience, even when doing so means shifting positions from state to state. The senior vote is critical to win an election, and that is especially true in Florida. His overt support of MEDICARE and Social Security is not surprising, and don’t be surprised if he hints that he instead of repealing healthcare reform he simply plans to modify it. What Romney does not understand is that ethics and morality are not going to influence the opinion of GOP voters, what unites them is their hatred of Barack Obama and they will vote for whomover has the best chance of removing what, to many of them, is an aberration in an otherwise pristine Norman Rockwell presidential record.

  • PatrickHenry

    Romney does mention over and over the failed policies of Obama and how it’s imperative that we defeat him. Gingrich is the one that mainly attacks others and then trys to take the high ground. Romney may be able to defeat Obama as well or better than Gingrich, and if I were Romney I would ask Gingrich when they bring up Illegal “immigration” what he intends to give Amnesty to those here under 25 years, say 24 years, or 23 1/2 years, ect. Where would Gingrich draw the line ? Illegal is Illegal.

  • zeb01

    If the release of private tax returns are so important, why isn’t Gingrich being compelled to authorize the release of the findings of the Ethics Committee’s investigation into his conduct while he was still in office? Rangel was publicly censured after he was investigated – the public certainly deserves to know what kind of public servant Gingrich was before they vote to make him a higher ranking public servant now.

  • kurt.lorentzen

    Newt was reprimanded for taking a tax-exemption for a college course run for political gain. It’s a gray area at best – certainly an ethical dilemma, but not certainly illegal as there was much uncertainty whether he had actually broken any laws. Rangel had multiple instances of tax evasion – not just claiming exemptions, but failing to report income, and supporting tax favortism to offshore businesses – exactly the thing Republicans are so often accused of. Both Newt and Rangel are guilty of ethics violations, but only Rangel’s falls to the level of a crime.

  • Gladys

    Don’t know what’s all the talk about big or small government. Seniors won’t let you take away their government subsidized medicare away from them no matter if they are republicans, democrats or tea party or anything else there is. So if you’re trying to cut down on big government, take away medicare too. Everybody pay insurance companies no matter how expensive or little quality they want to give you. Also, if you’re complaining about the high cost of medicine, how about lowering the cost of medicine? Does every dr. have to own a yacht? Also, do we have to have countless accountants and lawyers on board? How about big pharma. Get rid of them too. Make it so people can actually afford a pill.

  • Austin00005

    None of these candidates should be taken seriously. Republicans value religion and family in all there elections and so on. Any time a demo has a problem in there personal life you guys want to impeach. What now? Very forgiving of your own candidates I see. Hmmm. Obama has this country up and running again. Jobs are being added to the economy monthly.(FACT) HE’S gotten us out of truly illegal wars.(FACT) I can keep going if you like. All I see from these guys is deny, deny, deny. Where are the facts?

  • sleeprn01

    I’m not a physician, however I’ve worked in the health care profession for 40 years. The last 30 years as a nurse anesthetist at major medical institutions. I do not think that physicians are over paid and that salaries are not the cause of medical cost inflation. Yes, medications are expensive, but the research and development that it takes to produce and bring it to market is expensive. And yes, we the public demand medications that are receptor specific or target specific. If we look at the major killer in the U.S. which is heart disease; many of the medication that we take for granted, statins, Beta blockers, Nispan, Omega 3 fatty acids, to name but a few have significantly lowered our risk of having a heart attack. This in spite of our poor eating habits! I think that most of our cost come at the end terminal stage of life, that money would be better spent on preventing health problems. For example, over the last 20 years or so cars have been made continually safer. Traffic related deaths have declined, the incidence of major injury to the chest and head have decreased. Although making cars safer did increase the cost of the automobile, however that cost to society is less than several months in an ICU and possible long term rehabilitation. No, most of health cost come at the end of life. In my 40 years in health care I’ve seen incredible advances, our technological achievement have out paced our ethical decision making. Approximately 80% of health care dollars are spent in the last year of a persons life and 90% of that in the last month. Having a left ventricular assist device placed (a type of heart pump for heart failure) cost on average $250,000 and a mortality rate of 50% in the first year and another 25% in the second year. So, it’s not physician salaries causing the increase in health care cost, it is our desire to live forever that drives the cost. We have met the enemy and it is us!

  • jimmyags

    Anyone notice that when Romney changes his tune to fit the audience in front of him he is rightly called a flip flopper, but newt changes his tune to pander to florida seniors and no one seems to notice? He is a champion of voucher programs but now wraps himself in a “protection of medicare” cloak and that isn’t flip flopping?

  • Ynot

    I remember all too well when Newt was speaker of the house and Senator Bob Dole shut down the country twice during the Clinton administration when Former President Clinton vetoed the Republican spending bill.
    Now, Newt is pandering to the Tea Party Republicans; what a turn around for this guy. God “HELP” us if he should win.

    He made such an attack on Pres. Clinton for his behavior with Monica Lewinski yet, he poo poos his own behavior as being of something in the past. What a blooming arrogant hypocrite he is.
    I would not vote for this man even if he was the only one running for President.

  • scareygary

    Great comments, sleeper. I’ve also noticed that in some health care facilities, the number of people sitting at computers is astonishing, compared to the folks providing the services….i.e. doctors and nurses. I suspect a good deal of it is communication with a myriad of insurance companies in an effort to get paid! Just one more reason why I think “single payer” would save a good deal of coin in the long run…..

  • chasalex

    I am 79 years of age and at this time still enjoy reasonably good health. I am in thorough agreement with sleepern01 regarding the major contributor to health costs in this country. At such time, whether soon or in the distant future, my continued life here becomes dependent upon a radically costly intervention I would not want to have the intervention. Addition of a few months of life, which would likely not be very enjoyable following a major surgery or other radical intervention, would not be worth the cost. I do not want to be insensitive to the feelings of those who are desperate to hold onto life, or to their family members. But I sincerely believe that if such a choice were left strictly in the hands of the person who would endure the intervention, in most cases that person would choose to not do it.
    Unfortunately, as is the case also with the funeral industry, such demands are usually made under stress by family members and often promoted by those who would profit by it.

  • Dominick

    Gladys, neither Social Security nor MEDICARE are government subsidized social programs, we pay dearly for both throughout our professional lives and after we retire. I pay $150 a month in MEDICARE fees, plus another $150 for supplemental insurance, plus RX insurance, and I pay the same for my wife to the tune of over $600 a month! That’s almost my wife’s total SS check!!! The problem with MEDICARE is the 2003 “reform” which is nothing more than a huge scam for the pharmaceuticals, service providers and insurance companies.