Al Sharpton on Why Newt's Failing in Florida

He talks to The Root about Gingrich's "dishonest" strategy and why they are not meeting on race.

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Just a week ago, Newt Gingrich was back. Having won over Southern conservatives with surly debate performances (heavy on his "food stamp president" catchphrase, lectures on the malformed work ethic of poor children and eviscerations of the liberal news media), he handily won the South Carolina primary.

But Gingrich lost steam this week in Florida after lackluster debate performances with a far more aggressive Romney. In an open letter on Thursday, former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole made a case against the former House speaker. "If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state and federal offices," Dole wrote. "Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself."

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay followed suit in a radio interview, saying: "He's not really a conservative. I mean, he'll tell you what you want to hear. He has an uncanny ability, sort of like Clinton, to feel your pain and know his audience and speak to his audience and fire them up. But when he was speaker, he was erratic, undisciplined."

By Friday, Romney held a nine-point lead in Florida polling. What happened? The Rev. Al Sharpton, who collaborated with Gingrich on education reform in 2009, echoed DeLay's point that Gingrich is inconsistent with his views, switching them up depending on the audience before him.

In an interview with The Root, Sharpton talked about Gingrich's inability to balance different messages for different people, his racial rhetoric on the trail and why their meeting on race that you may have heard about isn't happening.

The Root: Why do you think Gingrich did so well in South Carolina, and why isn't his strategy working for him in Florida?

Al Sharpton: I think in South Carolina he fed red meat to a lot of the far right, who wanted to see someone that would walk the straight conservative line. I think he has probably been further to the right than the establishment candidate of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney.

I also think he purposefully used some race-tinged language there, calling the president a "food stamp president" and saying that he would go to an NAACP convention and tell blacks that they should demand jobs and not be satisfied with food stamps -- as if we are satisfied with food stamps, and as if we're the majority of people on food stamps. Neither are true.

I think he was cynically playing to a far-right crowd. But Florida is a different state. There, he's also had to balance out his message with appealing to Latinos. On one level he's still talking about food stamps, but on another level he's talking to Latinos, so it's not coming off as rough-edged. Then he's had to deal with the fact that he had a very milquetoast performance on Thursday in the debate.

AS: No. I never thought it would happen. Somebody in South Carolina asked him, and he said that he would meet with me. After that I challenged him on my show, and we called him from the National Action Network. He hasn't even responded.