Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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When people talk about South Carolina Republican politics, they talk, with a good deal of proof, about "whisper campaigns." It's sort of a caricature at this point, and as some voters I've spoken with have put it, probably as much a product of the primary's timing as it is the state's character; by the time the third nominating contest has rolled around, there's a sense of urgency that leads to, well, desperate measures.

Right on cue, this is the flier that was left on my windshield at last night's Personhood USA pro-life forum in the Evangelical hub of Greenville. Its target? Rick Santorum's wife, Karen:

Photo: Tim MurphyPhoto: Tim Murphy

Here's the relevant part:

Did you know Rick Santorum's wife, Karen, had a six-year affair with an abortionist named Tom Allen?

This story is only now hitting the news. But you can see for yourself at:

www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/santorum-wife-dated-abortion-doctor-1980s-report-article-1.1007228?localLinksEnabled=false

This abortion doctor was 30 years her senior! In fact, he delivered her as a baby!

The only reason they broke up was that Karen wanted kids—while Tom was busy killing them.

In fact, he said, "Karen had no problem with what I did for a living," and said that Rick Santorum was "pro-choice and a humanist."

The rest of the letter focuses on the former Pennsylvania senator, concluding "He just wants to be President so badly, he'll say anything to be elected."

The susbstance of the Karen Santorum smear is, for the most part, true. It wasn't an affair, though—neither Karen nor Tom Allen were married at the time—so the hint of infidelity is false. More to the point, it's difficult to see any scenario in which this should be relevant. Does anyone seriously doubt the Santorums' anti-abortion credentials?

Romney Floats a Whopper About the Navy

Two of the 11 aircraft carriers in the supposedly weak US Navy.

Mitt Romney's grand entrance at his Wednesday morning pit stop at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina goes like this: He shows up 30 minutes late, bounds on stage without signing autographs, and, after a brief introduction, directs the audience's attention to the white-haired man to his left. This man, he says, is "NASCAR legend David Pearson!" "David, you wanna say hi?" David doesn't, really, but Romney insists—"Go say hi to everybody!" and Pearson grabs the mic—"I guess I'll say hi"—and then he hands it right back off to Romney. "Those are the kinds of speeches I like!," Romney says. "Gosh, it's great to be in South Carolina. What kind of tree is that?," he says. It's a laurel oak. A few people shout from the audience, and Mitt apparently finds the answer that makes the least amount of sense and rolls with it: "It's a Mitt Romney tree. Okay!"

And we're off. Since turning their attention to South Carolina a week ago, Newt Gingrich's campaign has undergone a dramatic shift in tone, pushing a furious attack on Romney's record at Bain Capital; Rick Santorum is now taking shots at Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts for covering abortions (a job previously left to his surrogates). But if Romney's changed his tack, it's tough to see how. At Wofford, he breezes through his litany of applause lines—he won't apologize for America, etc.—and attacks President Obama for appeasing our enemies and weakening America's defenses. Then he breaks out a statistic he's used before: "Do you know how small our Navy is today? It's smaller than it has ever been since 1917!" Likewise, he adds, the Air Force has shrunk to 1947 levels.

Your Daily Newt: Pitt the Youngest

Newt Gingrich (left) and Pitt the Younger.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich had been Speaker of the House for all of six days in 1995 when he made a triumphant appearance at DC's Mayflower Hotel to give a major address entitled "From Virtuality to Reality." It was Gingrich distilled to his concentrated essence, interspersing musings on Americans' conception of speed limits, the merits of creating a federal entitlement for laptops (it would be "dumb"), the Wealth of Nations, and the works of the futurist power-couple Alvin and Heidi Toeffler. It was conservatism at its most Newt Agey: "Virtuality at the mental level is something I think you'd find in most leadership over historical periods," Gingrich told his audience.

Perhaps no leader better embodied those characteristics, Gingrich explained, than 18th-century British prime minister William Pitt, better known as "Pitt the Younger." As Newt put it:

I think equally useful is to look at the role of Pitt the Younger in the 1780s and 1790s. Because Pitt the Younger—surrounded by the disciples of Smith—rationalizes British tax policies to create the commercial environment in which so much wealth is made, the people are able to fight the Napoloeonic wars and Britain is able to carry virtually the entire financial weight of the alliance against Napoleon in a way that would have been literally impossible without Adam Smith's intellectual ideas being transmitted into the tax policies of Pitt the Younger.

Whew, long sentence. Gingrich's point was fairly straightforward, though: Pitt the Younger had the ability to look at the big picture rather than simply the task at hand; think big thoughts; and then apply those big ideas "directly to the modern world." It was a quality Gingrich considered seriously lacking in most politicians not named Newt Gingrich.

But there was another side to Pitt's reforms that Gingrich chose to downplay. Pitt paid for the Napoleonic wars by raising taxes. Specifically, he implemented the first-ever income tax—and not just any income tax, but a progressive income tax. Also, as Adam Gopnik points out, he was "probably gay."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, at an MLK Day event in South Carolina.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich stepped in it in 2007 when he told an audience of conservative activists that Spanish is a "ghetto" language. In an address to the National Federation of Women, the former speaker argued that, "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto." He later took to YouTube to issue una apologia—as they say in the ghetto—in Spanish. Now that he's a candidate for president, Gingrich has changed his tone, insisting that his quote was taken out of context. In January, he told reporters in Miami, "We didn't want any children trapped in a ghetto, it was a reference to the Middle Ages—being a historian."

Rick Santorum, Voting Rights Activist

We'll say this for former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum: He can surprise you from time to time. He was, for instance, the first and only GOP candidate to seize on a lack of income mobility as a serious problem in the United States, as he did at an October debate in Las Vegas. And at Monday's to-do in South Carolina, Santorum attacked the front-runner on the unlikeliest issues in a deep-red, law-and-order southern state: felon voting rights.

Santorum raised the subject because the pro-Romney super-PAC "Restore Our Future" has recently released an ad statewide hitting Santorum for supposedly voting to allow felons to vote while still in prison. That's false—Santorum voted to restore voting rights to felons only after they've left prison and had been restored all of their other rights—and he called Romney out of it. Then he asked a question: "I would ask Governor Romney, do you believe people who are felons, who have served their time, who have exhausted their parole and probation, should they be allowed to vote?"

Romney initially dodged the question, switching to his prepared defense of super-PACs. But Santorum pressed: "I'm asking you to answer the question...this is Martin Luther King Day. This is a huge deal in the African-American community because we have a very high rates of incarceration, disproportionately higher rates, particularly with drug crimes in the African-American community. The bill I voted for is the Martin Luther King voting rights bill." Pressed again for an answer, Romney at last said he'd oppose restoring voting rights to anyone who has committed a violent crime.

And then Santorum played his trump card: While Romney was governor, Massachusetts had a policy of allowing felons to vote once they'd left prison—even while they were still on probation. Think Progress flagged the whole exchange, which you can watch below:

This isn't likely to win Santorum any votes in South Carolina; if anything, it might still cost him a few—that's why Romney's super-PAC initially thought this was a winning issue. But it's an issue that's worth raising and one that candidates for presidents should be forced to take a stand on.

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