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French heats up political scene – down South

February 2012

Just when you thought the GOP presidential race could not get any crazier, it suddenly did.

This time the nuttiness came from Newt Gingrich, who launched an advertisement against his Republican rival Mitt Romney, accusing him of speaking French.

The advertisement tries to draw an unflattering parallel with another Massachusetts politician, John Kerry, the Democrat who lost to George W. Bush in 2004.

“The French Connection” paints Romney as another tax-raising, moderate elitist who will “say anything” to get elected—anything. Over Parisian accordion music, it continues: “And just like John Kerry, he speaks French, too.” The ad then delivers its coup de grace: a clip of a promotional video Romney recorded for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, for which he served as chief executive.

“Bonjour, je m’appelle Mitt Romney.”

This was not the only time in the debates that one candidate accused another of speaking a foreign language. Somebody charged Jon Huntsman with speaking a few words of Mandarin.

The implications of these language attacks are staggering. Is it somehow un-American to speak a foreign language? Is command of another language a sign of dilettantism? I am always proud of Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he goes to the White House and speaks fluent French.

It is true this language issue is just a side show to the main event. It’s hard to believe the main event is even crazier. For months, a handful of GOP hopefuls have been plodding around a handful of states trying to drum up support.

The voting rules in some states are so arcane it is difficult to ascertain the winner even after the votes have been supposedly counted.

The pundits say Iowa is important because it is the first in the nation to vote and often the harbinger of things to come. After a close race, electoral officials in Iowa announced that Governor Romney had defeated Rick Santorum by eight votes. This meant that Romney’s momentum would be slowed and Santorum would get a bump of new support, especially financial, going into the New Hampshire primary a few days later.

That may have happened to some extent. What throws the whole system into disrepute is that GOP officials subsequently changed the name of the winner in Iowa. Now Santorum had defeated Romney by 34 votes.

Can Iowa recover from this debacle? Four years from now, will Iowa still play a pivotal role in the nomination process? Probably not. Too much credibility has already been lost.

I would argue there are more fundamental weaknesses in the primary process. Seven men and one woman lined up at the starting gate. One was a pizza magnate, another the foster mother of 23 children, a third lost his last run for Senate by 20 points.

Then there was Rick Perry and Gingrich. Gingrich has brains but little money and no real organization. Perry has money and organization but no brains (all academic now because Perry has bailed out of the race). There is also Rick Santorum. He does not have the resources to go the distance and will probably drop out.

That leaves Romney, who has some obvious advantages. He is a multimillionaire with a solid organization and besides, he looks like a president.

Why, then, is he not doing better? Three reasons: Romney is a flip-flopper who appears to have no core principles; he is not comfortable in his own skin; and he is not an honest-to-God conservative.

That he is not a real conservative is the most deadly indictment among the GOP base. His health bill in Massachusetts was an Obamacare forerunner; he appointed liberal judges; he supported abortion before he opposed it. The list goes on.

The result is that a significant part of the Republican base will not support Romney. They would sooner lose with a true-blue conservative (like Gingrich) than win with a moderate.

The race has a long way to go. Suffice it to say the contest will probably get even crazier and the White House is laughing all the way to the ballot box.



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