Everyone’s talking about the revived Mitt Romney who showed up at the debate in Jacksonsville, Fla., last night. He was focused, clear and itching for a fight. Well, more like a gentlemanly set-to that exploited every opening to put his main rival, Newt Gingrich, on the defensive. Nothing characterized this more than the back-and-forth over “language of the ghetto.”
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Romney about an ad that accuses Gingrich of calling Spanish “the language of the ghetto.” After saying he hadn’t seen it, Romney turned to the former House speaker and asked, “Did he say that?” Gingrich replied “No” and then sank in the quicksand of explanation by adding, “I said we want everybody to learn English; I didn’t use the word Spanish.”
But wait, there’s more. When Blitzer informed Romney that his claim that he hadn’t seen the ad was bogus since it ends with the man himself saying, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this ad,” the former Massachusetts governor turned to Gingrich again. “Did you say what the ad says or not? I don’t know.” And once again, Gingrich stepped further into a hole of his own digging.
One of the major rules in crisis communications is NEVER to repeat a negative. Another is to pivot to a larger issue without acknowledging the messiness in the question. Otherwise known as dodging. Gingrich did fine on Rule No. 1. I was shocked that he violated Rule No. 2 by walking right into the trap Romney set. The more Gingrich talked, the more he gave the incendiary charge credibility. Even though he’s right when he says that he didn’t directly call Spanish a “language of the ghetto,” the more he defended himself the more it seemed plausible. In fact, he came pretty darned close.
During a 2007 speech to the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich said, “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”
Gingrich deserves to be pilloried and held accountable for this comment. I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s shown a fondness for peppering his worldview with racially tinged rhetoric. “Food stamp president,” anyone? I guess I’m mystified how someone who claims to be so smart and a peerless debater would make such a rookie mistake.