Romney and Gingrich: Kindred Spirits?

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Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Now that the human pretzel otherwise known as Mitt Romney has won the Illinois primary, thereby re-establishing his claim to be the inevitable nominee of the Republican Party, the pressure is on his rivals to drop out so that he can focus his energy on trying to drive President Barack Obama from the White House.

None of them are feeling the heat more than Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who finished dead last in Tuesday's contest with only 8 percent of the vote. If ever there were a politician whose time has gone, it's Gingrich. But — and call me sentimental if you will — I hope that Newt stays in for the simple reason that I would miss his peculiar brand of political hypocrisy so much. He's just more entertaining than Romney will ever be.

This week the two candidates gave us vivid examples of their talents as political attack dogs, and though his brassiness didn't affect the outcome in Illinois, Gingrich, once again, came out on top.

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Congratulating himself on his triumph in Illinois on Tuesday night, Romney drew a contrast between his career as a swashbuckling venture capitalist and Obama's years as a law-school professor:

Now, you know that yesterday I was giving a speech at the University of Chicago — not very far from here, not very far from where professor Barack Obama taught law. It was a speech on economic freedom. And as I was writing the speech, I thought to my lifetime of experiences … For 25 years I lived and breathed business, and the economy, and jobs. I had successes and failures. But each step of the way, I learned a little bit more about what makes our American system so powerful. You can't learn that teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, all right?

Leaving aside the highly debatable merits of Romney's charge, it is a convoluted argument that he delivered poorly, in a hesitant, almost whiny tone. Romney has a great haircut, but his body and hand movements are as awkward as those of Richard Nixon.

And what he does with his eyes is truly disconcerting: They pop open to Nancy Pelosi-style dimensions at odd moments during his speeches, as though he were out to punctuate the fact that he is reading a carefully crafted tract from a teleprompter instead of speaking from the heart.

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The sad truth is that Romney is a stiff on the stump. As the invaluable Charles Pierce observed in a wickedly incisive post to his blog at Esquire magazine, Romney comes across like a political android that "is almost capable of simulating actual human speech and, therefore, sounding very nearly like an actual presidential candidate. But, as its stumbling victory speech proved on Tuesday night in Schaumburg, Illinois, it's still pretty far from sounding like a President of the United States."

Meanwhile, old Newt was up to the tricks that have endeared him to right-wing audiences for generations. In a typical outburst of phony umbrage and well-timed audacity, he seized upon an idiotic remark made by actor Robert De Niro at a fundraiser in New York City that first lady Michelle Obama attended.

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De Niro's heavy-handed jest — "Do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?" — was, according to Gingrich, "inexcusable," just as bad as Rush Limbaugh's sliming of law student Sandra Fluke. To quote Gingrich at some length:

I do want to say one thing, both on behalf of my wife and on behalf of Karen Santorum and on behalf of Ann Romney, I think that Robert De Niro's wrong. I think the country is ready for a new first lady, and he doesn't have to describe it in racial terms … What De Niro said last night was inexcusable, and the president should apologize for him. It was at an Obama fundraiser, it is exactly wrong, it divides the country. If people on the left want to talk about talk show hosts, then everybody in the country should hold the president accountable when someone at his event says something that is utterly and terrible unacceptable as what Robert De Niro said.

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I suppose it's irrelevant that De Niro's wife, Grace Hightower, is black, or that the first lady's spokesperson quickly condemned the joke as "inappropriate." What tickled me was Gingrich's pumped-up ire over De Niro's use of "racial terms."

This, mind you, is coming from a politician who habitually describes our first black commander in chief as "the most successful food stamp president in American history." And from a former college professor who claims, with a straight face, that Obama exhibits "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior."

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If Gingrich's complaint about De Niro's use of racial language is not a textbook example of — Lawd, forgive me! — the pot calling the kettle black, we'll never see one. I mean, you can't get much more racial than accusing the president of acting like a member of the Mau Mau! Come on, Newt, give me a break!

And Mitt should do the same. The truth is that for all its sweeping hypocrisy, Gingrich's latest blast is no more inconsistent or reliant on double standards than the dodgy rhetoric Romney has used to explain away his ambition-fired transition from moderate Republicanism to "severe" conservatism. He twists the facts as much as Gingrich does, on everything from the supposed differences between so-called Obamacare and the health reform he signed into law when he was governor of Massachusetts to his former stances on abortion and gay rights. Indeed, his views are so flexible that a key campaign adviser this week compared them to an Etch A Sketch.

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The difference is that when Gingrich starts distorting the reality field, he does so with infectious intensity. He seems to enjoy rolling in mendacity so much that you can almost forget that he knows it's a con game. But when Romney delivers a whopper, he comes across like a kid being forced to eat his spinach. He's as dishonest as Gingrich, but a lot less fun.

Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.

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