By Anthony Pignataro
In the overcast late afternoon hours of Saturday, Aug. 20, there were easily 150 people packed into the small but mercifully air-conditioned room at the Door of Faith Church in Wailuku (“over by Sack N Save,” the press release had helpfully noted). They were mostly Tea Party Maui members, clad in “We the People” and “Party like its [sic] 1773” t-shirts, there to see former Speaker of the House (and perennial presidential contender) Newt Gingrich on his fourth trip to the Valley Isle since 2007.
When I first saw Gingrich in 2007, he spoke at the now-shuttered Borders Books in Kahului (his trip was ostensibly plugging Pearl Harbor, a fantasy/history novel he penned of the famous 1941 Japanese Attack). There, the crowd was a mix of fans and skeptics. This time, as I drove into the Door of Faith parking lot a 30 minutes before Gingrich’s 5:30 appearance and saw that I was behind an SUV showing off both an “I miss Reagan” and an “I really miss Reagan” bumper sticker, I realized this crowd was 100 percent Gingrichista.
Considering the twin auras of love and hate that still surround Gingrich, it’s hard to believe he spent just five years as Speaker of the House (1995-1999). Or that he hasn’t held a government job since Bill Clinton was in the White House. Or that he’s already run for president numerous times since his 1999 resignation, all of them wildly unsuccessful. Or that his current campaign has been marked by an absence of big donors, fleeing political aides and abysmal poll numbers (as Gingrich was working the room at 5:30, I noticed that a couple feeds on Twitter were reporting he had just scored five percent and one percent in various recent straw polls).
Presidential campaign shambles aside, Gingrich can still prove his mastery of rhetoric in 30 seconds to even the most hardened politico. “We are very interested in look at the original intent of the founding fathers,” were some of the first words he told the crowd, and they brought the house down. “We need to begin to resurround the conversation with the intent of the founding fathers.”
Who can argue with any of that? Of course, debating such statements requires understanding them in the first place, and that was questionable. Then again, isn’t good political rhetoric merely the art of making yourself as vague as possible?
But these people, mostly but not all seniors, many of which were clad in American Flag shirts and toting business cards with titles like “Patriot for Less Government,” weren’t doing a lot of critical thinking. They were applauding too much: at Gingrich’s calling of the congressional budget “supercommittee” “a really bad idea;” his call to audit the Federal Reserve; even his promises to “eliminate the capital gains tax” and “cut the corporate tax rate to 12 and a half percent.”
Nor did they seem to mind when Gingrich promoted himself. He endlessly mentioned his presidential campaign website and numerous books he’s written (consult your local library, if spending cuts haven’t closed its doors).
Gingrich knew his crowd, people who love America, right or wrong. These were true-believers; no pesky kids asking about corporate campaign donations like at Borders four years ago.
Gingrich promised to “totally control the border” (to keep out undocumented immigrants) and to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq “as early as we can”—both statements brought sustained applause. And the crowd laughed merrily when he derided President Barack Obama as “the best food stamp president in American history” and cheered when he promised to be “the best paycheck president in history.”
But the best laugh came from a member of the audience who didn’t seem to be paying close attention.
“Keep up the good work,” one old guy who identified himself as being from Newport Beach told Gingrich near the end of the questions portion of the evening. “When are you going to run for president again?”
(This is an excerpt from a larger story that will appear in the Aug. 25 edition of MauiTime)