Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


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

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Your Daily Newt: Thomas Jefferson Airplane

Newt Gingrich puts a hand over his left ear, presumably to block out the sound of that awful rock music.

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's ring-tone is ABBA's "Dancing Queen," so the operative question when considering his musical tastes isn't whether they're terrible, but just how that came to be. The answer, as with all things Gingrich, has to do with politics. In an interview with Frontline in 1995, his college friend, David Kramer, explained that Gingrich didn't really the see the point in music if he couldn't manipulate it for political gain:

I remember one afternoon taking the 'White Album' over there and playing it through and explaining to him what was significant about this whole experience. I'm not sure he ever figured it out. One night we went to a Jefferson Airplane concert in New Orleans and he found that very interesting—there were a lot of people there who were very excited and of course, his question was, 'Is there any political value in this?'

Sounds fun. As it happens, "Dancing Queen" actually has been appropriated for political ends. In 2010, the far-right Danish People's Party, obviously well-informed of the listening habits of 21st-century Danish youths, rewrote the lyrics to the song in an attempt to appeal to younger voters. When ABBA protested—"ABBA never allows its music to be used in a political context"—the party took the song down.

Newt Gingrich tried marijuana in college and hated it so much he concluded anyone bringing it into the country should be executed.

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. (Daily Newt is back from a brief sabbatical following Newt around South Carolina.)

Ross Douthat's criticism notwithstanding, Newt Gingrich is very much a man of ideas—so many ideas, in fact, that he often ends up floating vastly contradictory proposals within a manner of just a few years. As Daily Newt explained previously, Newt Gingrich wrote a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1981 calling for marijuana to be legalized for medical purposes. "[L]icensed physicians are competent to employ marijuana," he wrote at the time. Pragmatic!

Flash-forward to 1996, and Gingrich's views had shifted to the right, and then kept going for a little while past that. Gingrich was the lead sponsor of the "Drug Importer Death Penalty Act," which, as its name suggests, would have made importation of even a small amount of marijuana punishable by life imprisonment (first offense) and death (second offense):


How much is "100 usual dosage amounts" of pot? About two ounces—more than the usual Friday afternoon with Snoop Dogg, but well beneath the load carried by the serious drug traffickers Gingrich's law was purportedly targeting. Our friends at Weedguru inform us that an ounce "can last a month for some smokers, but if you smoke multiple times a day it will vary from 1 week to 4 weeks." The law would be just as likely to target college kids coming back from a long night in Tijuana as it would members of an international drug cartel.

Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown have pledged to ban third-party ads from their Massachusetts Senate race.

On Monday morning, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and his likely Democratic opponent, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, agreed to a pledge banning third-party advertisements in the run-up to November's election. Groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Rethink PAC (attacking Brown) and Crossroads GPS (attacking Warren) had been waging a proxy war on the airwaves in Massachusetts since last fall, and with the inclusion of third-party ads, the race was expected to wind up in the $100 million range. Last week, Warren and Brown began hashing out a dark-money pledge (while hammering each other on the disagreements in public), and now, the Globe's Glen Johnson reports, they've reached a compromise.

The pledge for both candidates to denounce third-party ads run by supporters, ask TV stations not to air them (which TV stations don't have to do), and—if the problem persists—Brown proposed that the candidate who benefits from the ads donate 50-percent of the total cost of the ad buy to charity (501(c)(3) political groups, presumably, don't count).

Both sides obviously think they have something to gain from the agreement; Anti-Brown third-party groups have outspent the other side by a 3 to 1 margin so far, so you could see why he might want Warren's outside groups to call off the dogs. Warren, likewise, is sick of being tarred—simultaneously—as a Wall Street shill and a radical occupier, and has to think that, this being deep-blue Massachusetts, she can win the race on her own if she runs close to a competent campaign. Besides, she raised $5.7 million in the last three months; money's no issue.

Both campaigns are declaring victory, but will it really make a difference? In a statement, LCV Senior Vice President of Campaigns Navin Nayak said: "While we cannot take directions from any candidate on our independent activities, we are inclined to respect the People's Pledge agreed to by Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown and we hope that Scott Brown will honor his end of the deal when Crossroads and the Koch Brothers inevitably break it."

Meanwhile, here's the statement American Crossroads president Steven Law just blasted out on the agreement: "Because the agreement allows union phone banks, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote drives—all union core specialties—Warren's latest agreement has loopholes the Teamsters could drive a truck through, the longshoremen could steer a ship through, the machinists could fly a plan through, and government unions could drive forklifts of paperwork through."

Newt Gingrich, Back From the Dead

Newt Gingrich won Saturday's South Carolina primary by 14 points.

Newt Gingrich completed one of the more dramatic turnarounds in modern GOP history on Saturday, erasing a double-digit deficit in the final week of the campaign to trounce Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican primary by 14 points. The major networks called the race immediately after polls closed at 7 p.m. By the time Gingrich finally made his appearance at a Columbia victory party two hours and countless Jock Jams tracks later, his supporters had been whooped into a frenzy. Gingrich was happy to egg the crowd on, promising supporters he'd run an "American campaign" to save America from a "Saul Alinsky radicalist."

"In the two debates that we had here, in Myrtle Beach and in Charleston, where people reacted so strongly to the news media, I think there was something very fundamental that I wish the powers that be in the news media would take seriously," Gingrich said. "The American people feel that they have…elites who have been trying for a half a century to force us to quit being American and become some other system. And people completely misunderstand what's going on: It's not that I had a good debate; it is that I articulate the deepest-felt values in the American people."

Saturday's result brings to an end a terrible week for Romney, who in just a few days has gone from looking like he'd be the first candidate ever to win the first three Republican nominating contests to having a 1-for-3 record. (Romney was originally thought to have won Iowa, but a more complete count eventually gave former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum the victory.) Now the race is headed into a state—Florida—that Gingrich has always considered a firewall. Pundits can quibble over the larger significance, but one thing's very clear: Gingrich won the South Carolina race in the last week. And he did it by effectively exploiting the medium that he promises (over and over and over and over) will carry him to victory in November—the debates. According to the Associated Press' exit poll, two thirds of South Carolina voters said they made up their minds after last week's two debates. Of that cohort, 50 percent went for Gingrich.

"He killed it in the debates; he knocked it into orbit on Monday," said Mackie Christenson, who flew down from Leesburg, Virginia, to volunteer for the campaign. And now that she's on board, she's seeing the campaign in a new light: "To me it's like Winston Churchill. They threw out Winston Churchill then they had a war they had to bring him back in. He's like a bull in a china shop. Sometimes you gotta break some cups and plates to make a difference."

"I don't like that he's payin' 15 percent and I'm payin' 28. It doesn't make sense to me."

Bill and Linda Norwood of Columbia speak in unison when I ask them who they voted for outside their polling place—"Newt"—and again when I ask when they made up their minds—"the debates." Another last-minute development also influenced their vote. "I don't like taxes," Bill said. "I don't like people who got all that money and won't tell you about it. I don't like that [Romney is] payin' 15 percent and I'm payin' 28. It doesn't make sense to me, so it was just a bunch of things." Gingrich, on the other hand, is a man who, "sometimes says things he shouldn't" but "doesn't need notes and stuff like that."

The debate bump had two parts. One was reactionary—voters felt that Gingrich had put Fox News' Juan Williams in his place for suggesting that Gingrich might have been racially insensitive when he called President Obama a "food stamp president." As one voter told me, "When I hear the Juans of the world, I get upset." The second is more, to use a word Gingrich is fast making his own, grandiose. For the last week, in hunting lodges and barbecue huts and even a decommissioned aircraft carrier, Gingrich hammered home a pledge he’s been making for months: If he's the nominee, he'll challenge Obama to a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates across the country.

It's a perfect proposition: If Obama accepts, Gingrich will wipe the floor with him; if he declines, he'll make the White House schedule his own and show up wherever the president campaigns to deliver a rebuttal four hours later. Noting that Obama recently traveled to Orlando to hold a town hall meeting—"I can't wait to see the picture of President Obama standing between Mickey Mouse and Goofy"—Gingrich told an audience in Walterboro on Thursday that he was getting ready to book his own ticket to Disney World. Romney banked his campaign on the idea that Republicans, more than anything, want a candidate who can beat Obama. He just didn't expect them to want to be able to watch it on TV, too.

Gingrich also benefited from Romney's failings—and those of his supporters. Burch Antley of Columbia made up his mind to vote for Gingrich "when Gov. Nikki Haley supported Mitt Romney." That's consistent with a Monmouth poll released last week that noted that 21 percent of South Carolinians said the endorsement of their state's Republican governor made them "less likely" to support Romney.

Now it's on to Florida, a state Gingrich has cultivated for months, but where he's still trailing by double digits according to the most recent polls and where it's expensive to campaign and advertise. (Romney starts off with a large organizational advantage there; even before the Gingrich surge in South Carolina, his campaign strategists were looking to Florida as the all-important showdown.) A repeat of Gingrich's South Carolina triumph will be complicated by the fact that due to early voting, Floridians have been casting absentee ballots for three weeks. In his victory speech on Saturday night, Gingrich acknowledged steep odds: "Anyone here, who knows anyone in Florida, please contact them at some point tomorrow." If it's any consolation for Gingrich, though, there's this: The next debate is on Monday.

This post has been updated.

Newt Gingrich Goes to War in South Carolina

There are several different ways of dealing with a heckler: One is to ignore it, another is issue a passive-aggressive "Thank God for the First Amendment" line; on Friday night, Newt Gingrich went with option number-three—what I guess you'd call the "Chris Christie."

No sooner had his speech aboard the USS Yorktown begun when an audience member shouted from the crowd: "Why won't you release your ethics report? When will you release your ethics report?" Turning to face his inquisitor, Gingrich returned fire: "I you would do a little research instead of shouting mindlessly, you'll discover that they're online at the Thomas system, and you can print them out and read it. It's about 900 pages, and when you get done reading it, let me know if you have any questions." Boom. When the heckling persisted, Newt droped a zinger. "I assume you're for the guy who won't release his income tax," he said, taking a shot at Mitt Romney.

The man continued shouting for a little while (countered by an "Off with his head!" chant from a woman right behind me, in reference to the heckler) and finally conceded defeat after a persistent "Go Newt, Go!" chant broke out. It was, in addition to being impolite, a pretty inartfully worded question, which Gingrich took advantage of to avoid the actual substance. There's a difference between the ethics reports that are public record at Thomas, and the sealed documents from the Gingrich ethics investigation that are currently not public record. Gingrich has been less than upfront on the latter, which is part of the reason Romney is now demanding he release them.

The exchange was noteworthy, though, for the tone. Gingrich didn't let the heckler off the hook; angry retorts are what propelled him to the top of the polls (the most recent one from Public Policy put him up nine points over Romney in South Carolina) and he believes this tone is going to keep him there, whether the victim is Juan Williams, John King, or an anonymous Romney supporter. "It's not so much what's wrong with the other candidates," said Burnie Acufff of Charleston, when I asked him why he's volunteering for Newt. "I feel that Newt has got the scar tissue and callouses to put up with Washington, DC." He won't sit back and take it, in other words.

On stage aboard the Yorktown, Gingrich did his best to present himself as a sober, seasoned, future commander in chief—serial abuse of Godwin's law notwithstanding. The rally took place aboard the Yorktown, a decommissioned aircraft carrier which has been converted into a floating museum in Charleston Harbor and—should the occasion arise—possesses enough WWII-era bombers and old anti-aircraft guns to keep the Nazis off the beaches of the low-country until reinforcements can arrive. Gingrich delivered his remarks in front of a 30-foot-long American flag and just out of camera shot from the hanging innards of a Navy chopper, an old QH-50 with a 72 hp Gyrodyne-Porsch reciprocating engine. He was introduced by retired Marine Gen. James Livingston (a Medal of Honor recipient), who had switched endorsements from Rick Perry to Gingrich earlier in the week, and gave a nod to the ship's history in the Pacific theater (making a quick "politically incorrect" joke about speaking Japanese). He began with a moment of silence for America and French soldiers who had recently been killed in Pakistan. 

Photo by Tim MurphyPhoto by Tim MurphyAnd, flanked by his wife, Callista, and a troop of Boy Scouts (here on a field trip) he'd invited to join him on stage, Newt made his final pitch to South Carolinians: "I want you to know that should I be honored and have the opportunity to serve as president, I will take to the White House, the memory of this evening on this ship, and the courage of the man who introduced me, and the patriotism of the people who came here, and the young people to whom we owe the presidency, and I will dedicate myself to do everything that I can to make sure that they grow up in a country worthy of their future." He left the stage to a chorus of "Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!" For a moment it felt like 1994 all over again.

Of course, this being South Carolina, some military imagery was more tasteful than others. Gingrich's first endorser at Friday night's speech decided to kick off his speech with a little bit of history: "Charleston has been the place of a lot of historic firings, like the firing of the first shot at Fort Sumter," said Bobby Harrell, the state's Republican speaker of the house. "Tomorrow, we will do another firing—when we fire Barack Obama from the White House!"

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