Grappling with a decisive loss to Mitt Romney in the GOP's Nevada Caucus last night, Newt Gingrich unleashed one of his sharpest attacks ever on the front-runner. "If you can't tell the truth as a candidate for president, how can the country possibly expect you to lead as president?" Gingrich asked a Vegas ballroom full of reporters, referring to Romney's performance in the most recent debate, in Jacksonville on January 26. He added: "I have never seen a person running for president be that untruthful."
Romney surprised nobody with his victory in Nevada. He was holding a pair of aces: a strong on-the-ground operation and the fact that about a quarter of Nevada caucus voters share his Mormon faith. Still, Nevada was a painful bust for Gingrich. Coming after a loss in Florida, his battle with Texas Congressman Ron Paul for a distant second establishes a pattern of declining support for his campaign and hurts his status as standard bearer for the GOP's conservative base.
In a state where a housing and tourism slump is fueling one of the nation's highest rates of unemployment, Romney bested his opponents despite sounding like an out-of-touch rich guy for most of the week. On Wednesday, he'd told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that he was "not concerned about the very poor" because "there is a safety net there." The next day, billionaire Donald Trump didn't much help things when he popped into (where else?) a Trump-branded casino to endorse the former governor. Still, it was Gingrich who emerged from the affair looking clueless. His campaign staff had misled reporters at the New York Times and other major outlets into reporting that the Trump endorsement would go Newt's way, only to see Trump play a different card.
Downtown Elko: Mojorider2/FlickrAmerica is full of small towns that bolster our national identity even though most of us rarely visit them. They are repositories of authenticity like Flint, Michigan; Treynor, Iowa; and Abilene, Kansas—factory, farming, and ranching towns. Every few years, national politicians parachute into a few carefully selected ones to stake claims to one political mythology or another. Which is essentially what Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were doing this week in Elko, a remote gold-mining town that's home to 0.7 percent of Nevadans, most of whom could drink whiskey all day long and still kick the shit out of the other 99.3 percent in a bar fight.
The romance of mining and its close relative, fist-fighting, factors heavily into the Silver State's brand of rugged individualism. Nevada's most famous early senator, William Stewart, once bragged of defending a mining claim by tackling an interloper into a ditch and strangling him with a woolen shirt. But while most of Nevada's prospecting happens at the slots these days, and its most talked-about fist-fights are pay-per-view, Nevadans still look to places like Elko to keep it real. In the lead-up to the 2008 election, Barack Obama visited Elko twice.
Possibly the best window into Elko life is Goldie's, a watering hole near the downtown casinos where, naturally, the gold miners hang out. A few years ago, I was nursing a beer there when the sloshed tatterdemalion sitting next to me saw it fit to call a guy with a cratered face ugly. Soon I had to get up from my barstool because the drunk's forehead was about to be pinned against it, his neck oddly immobile in Crater Face's vice grip.
When it comes to manipulating charitable giving for personal and political ends, Newt Gingrich wrote the book. In 1997, his charity work won him the dubious distinction of being the first House speaker ever disciplined by his peers for ethical wrongdoing. Congress fined Gingrich $300,000 in connection with claiming tax-exempt status for "Renewing American Civilization," a college course he'd taught for political purposes.
Gingrich has been at it again. Over the past two years, a Gingrich charity called Renewing American Leadership paid $220,000 to Gingrich Communications, one of his for-profit companies. The purchases included books authored by Gingrich, such as The Fight for America's Future and Rediscovering God in America. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, told ABC News that the arrangement violates the spirit of how nonprofits are supposed to work.
In 2010, Mitt Romney and his wife gave just under $3 million to charity, or about 15 percent of their $21.6 million income. That's a sizeable sum even by 1 percenter standards, which is why Romney's backers say it's unfair to castigate him for exploiting tax loopholes. "Mr. Romney's taxes reveal the most generous charitable donor to run for president in recent memory," writesNational Review's Mona Charen.
But generous towards whom? Just over half of Romney's 2010 giving went to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Romneys didn't have much choice there: The church requires Mormons to tithe 10 percent of their income to remain members in good standing. The rest of the money went to the Tyler Foundation, a 501(c3) nonprofit funded exclusively by the Romneys. Though most of its donations defy criticism, others aren't exactly middle of the road.
Photo by Mark Murmann.On Sunday night, a day after the mass arrest of some 400 Occupy Oakland protesters—and journalists including one of my Mother Jones colleagues—many of those who'd been released met outside City Hall to let off steam. Broadcasting through a speaker in a bicycle trailer, members of Occupy Oakland's Anti-Repression Committee denounced the use of "teargas, rubber bullets, and assault grenades." The crowd chanted, "Fuck the cops!" But anger at those who'd encouraged police violence by throwing rocks, ransacking the inside of City Hall, and burning an American flag was hard to find. A veteran member of Occupy Oakland later told me that proponents of nonviolence had largely quit speaking up at Oakland meetings for fear of being shouted down.
The militancy of Occupy Oakland contrasts sharply with the culture of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, where I was embedded this fall. In the weeks leading up to the occupation of Zuccotti Park in September, experts schooled groups of young people in peaceful protest tactics. Calls to occupy the park invariably stressed nonviolence, and the movement's official "Declaration of Solidarity," adopted later that month, proclaimed that "we have peaceably assembled here." Occupiers took turns waving an American flag on the night of the eviction, and even during the most confrontational demonstrations that followed, enforced a code of restraint. During an effort to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, for example, I saw garbage bags that had been tossed into the street by a few rogue protesters get picked up by other activists and put back on the sidewalk. A young anarchist I was shadowing denounced the incident as "stupid black-block shit," showing his disdain for anarchism's militant wing.