“We can’t afford two George Soros approved candidates this fall.”
— Voiceover from Newt Gingrich campaign ad, referring to Mitt Romney and President Obama, Feb. 2, 2012
“I think for most Republican voters, the idea of trying to nominate a Soros-approved candidate is not a very appealing idea.”
— Gingrich, during a Fox News interview, Feb. 3, 2012
Newt Gingrich has progressively turned up the heat with his rhetoric against Mitt Romney since falling flat in the first two nominating contests this year. It seemed to work when he pulled off an upset in South Carolina, but the former House speaker finished a distant second in the recent Florida and Nevada primaries. His latest Web ad suggests that “ultra-liberal” billionaire George Soros supports both Romney and President Obama.
The new ad also suggested that the GOP front-runner supports Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — an unpopular figure among Republicans — and that his financial backing from Wall Street executives shows some form of concordance with Obama.
We looked at the entire Soros interview to find out where the billionaire philanthropist really stands on the 2012 candidates. We also examined the issue of Romney’ Wall Street backing and his stance on Geithner to find out whether Gingrich’s ad hit the mark.
These types of accusations are typical for Gingrich. Part of his strategy after the New Hampshire primary was to draw ideological distinctions between himself and Romney, as well as to highlight parallels between his opponent and Obama.
Late last month, Gingrich sharpened his rhetoric, slapping Romney with the “liberal” tag instead of just calling him a “Massachusetts moderate” as he had done in the past. This was an attempt to pin his opponent with the most damaging reputation a Republican can have — if it sticks. (We covered Gingrich’s change of terminology in a previous column.)
We’ve already covered much of the GOP front-runner’s political record, as well as Gingrich’s assertion that Romney doesn’t represent a true alternative to Obama. But this claim that Soros gave a thumbs-up to the former governor represents something new.
The Gingrich campaign based its claim on a Jan. 24 Reuters interview in which Soros discussed his feelings about Obama. The billionaire business magnate said he was “slightly disappointed” with the president, whom he had endorsed early on in the 2008 election cycle. But he expressed reluctant support for Obama “in view of the alternatives.”
Soros also talked about the GOP candidates, saying:
“Look, either you’ll have an extremist conservative, be it Gingrich or Santorum, in which case I think it would make a big difference which of the two comes in. If it’s between Obama and Romney, then there isn’t all that much difference, except for the crowd that they bring with them. Romney would have to take Gingrich or Santorum as a vice president and probably have some pretty extreme candidates for the Supreme Court. So that’s the downside.
On the other side, the Obama administration is a bit exhausted, so it’s not all that strong. So it won’t be that great a difference, and I think there won’t be a great deal of enthusiasm on either side of the battle ground. It will be more civilized than the previous elections have been. Or you’ll have an extremist candidate, then you’ll have a lot of emotion on both sides.”
Soros never said anything about endorsing Romney. Furthermore, Michael Vachon, a personal advisor and spokesman for Soros, told us this: “It is disingenuous to use George’s comments that way. He certainly doesn’t support Mitt Romney.”
For what it’s worth, the Romney campaign fired back at Gingrich on Friday with a statement revealing that the Open Society Institute donated $5 million to the Alliance for Climate Protection, the group that produced the 2008 commercial featuring Gingrich and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seated on a couch together and calling for action on climate change.
The Gingrich ad attacks Romney’s Wall Street backing by showing that dozens of executives who had supported Obama’s 2008 campaign have now shifted their money to Romney for the 2012 election. But The Hill, a political newspaper cited in the video, suggested the trend indicates displeasure with the president’s policies, not that Wall Street executives think Romney and Obama are alike.
Even Soros acknowledged this during his Reuters interview, saying that recent debates over whether to increase taxes on investments and the top one-percent “has led my hedge-fund community to abandon Obama in favor of any Republican, because they don’t like to be taxed.”
As for the Geithner issue, the ad doesn’t tell the whole story. First it quotes Obama saying, “Geithner is as sharp and as skilled a public servant as we have.” Then it shows Romney in a 2009 interview saying, “He is person of accomplishment and skill. I think he is very bright.” The message is clear: Romney and the president are on the same page when it comes to the controversial Treasury secretary.
But Romney’s hearty endorsement of the secretary didn’t last long. Our colleagues at PolitiFact pointed out that he criticized Geithner in his 2010 book “No Apology” for using TARP as a “slush fund.” He also called on the government to end the program, which he described as poorly structured and badly executed. It’s worth noting that he supported the measure early on as a stop-gap to stave off a potential collapse of the financial markets.
The Pinocchio Test
Soros never said that he supported or “approved” Romney, so the Gingrich ad is utterly wrong on that account. The investor’s own foundation has clarified that point for us.
Gingrich’s ad suggested that Romney supports Geithner, but his approval seems limited to 2009, before the TARP program had run its course. By 2010, the former governor was criticizing Geithner for mishandling the bank bailout and letting it continue too long.
In terms of the Romney’s Wall Street backing, it doesn’t indicate any connection with liberalism or the economic policies of the president. On the contrary, it suggests stark differences between the plans Romney and Obama propose for the future. If Wall Street executives thought the candidate’s policies were remotely similar, they would probably donate money to both candidates, as they often do to hedge their bets.
Overall, Gingrich’s ad earns four Pinocchios, at least for the claims we haven’t covered in previous columns.
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An earlier version of this story inaccurately identified Michael Vachon’s position. It has been corrected.