Don’t Talk About Welfare at Newt University

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cainandtoddbenson/5742382305/sizes/z/in/photostream/">Cain and Todd Benson</a>/Flickr

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Newt University, the former speaker of the House’s eight-hour, one-week Tampa lecture series on why America is really great, is a collaborative effort in which a host of GOP luminaries, businessmen, and industry groups talk about awesome things about America.

Gingrich is here today at the Wyndham Hotel in Tampa to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Harold Hamm, the billionaire oil baron who gave almost $1 million to the pro-Romney and—no hard feelings here—anti-Gingrich super-PAC Restore our Future, is here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Sen John Hoeven (R-N.D.), is also here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is here to talk about how North Dakota is…no, he’s actually here to talk about energy independence.

The awesomeness of North Dakota isn’t really why I’m here, though. I’m curious what Gingrich, the architect of the 1990s welfare reform push and more recently the man who accused Barack Obama of being a “food stamp president,” thinks about the Romney campaign’s roundly debunked attack on the president’s welfare policies. Given that the charges are false, and Romney has followed up on his charge by accusing the president of wanting to “shore up his base” with handouts, some people think Romney is hoping to stir up historic animosity among white working-class voters.

There’s a hitch, though. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting you talk to him,” says Gingrich’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond.

So I asked West, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, for his thoughts. No dice here, either. “You guys says there’s a racial component for everything except when y’all attack me,” he tells me when I ask about the welfare attacks. Twice, actually. “No, no, you guys say there’s a racial component for everything except when you attack me. So don’t even ask me about that silliness.”

When Illinois Rep. John Shimkus (most famous for suggesting that God would protect the United States from climate change) finished his presentation at Newt U., I asked him what he thought about the racial implications of the welfare ads. “WHAT!? There’s no increasing racial tone of this campaign.” I asked him about the false claim, repeated in a recent ad, that Obama had eased welfare work requirements to “shore up his base.”

“Does welfare only go to a racial population?” Shimkus asked. “I don’t think so.” At this point, Hammond, Gingrich’s aide, piped in. “What’s up with the Chris Matthews racism there?” he asks, a nod to the MSNBC host whom Gingrich has accused of being a racist for discussing the racial implications of the welfare attack.

“Come on, give me a break!” Shimkus said with a laugh, and turned away to greet an admirer.

The GOP’s welfare evolution is Gandhi in reverse: First they fight you, then laugh at you, then they ignore you. No word yet on who wins.

Relatedly, here’s my interview from Tuesday with Herman Cain, who is also adamant that there are no racial overtones in the welfare attack:

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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