Contextual Content

Gingrich Attacks "Vulture Capitalist" Romney

Megan Carpentier (Exec. Editor of the progressive Raw Story) and Matt Welch (Editor in Chief of the libertarian Reason.com): Gingrich launches multi-million dollar campaign against Romney in South Carolina

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And the primary in New Hampshire is over, and as expected, Mitt Romney won. Ron Paul came in second—expected, I guess, by the time the vote rolled around, but not expected a month or two ago. Perhaps one of the more interesting things that happened during the campaign is Gingrich’s attack ads against Romney, accusing him of being a rapacious capitalist, which is kind of funny, and got even funnier when Santorum and some of the others said, hold on, you can’t say that about a Republican; we are the party of rapacious capitalists. Okay, I’m putting words in their mouth, but it wasn’t far from it.

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Wall Street’s corporate raiders made billions of dollars.

Private equity leaders getting rich at the expense of American workers.

Their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits. Nothing was spared. Nothing mattered but greed. This film is about one such raider and his firm. Mitt Romney became CEO of Bain Capital the day the company was formed. His mission: to reap massive rewards for himself and his investors.

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Alright. Now joining us from New York City is Megan Carpentier. She’s the executive editor of Raw Story. And joining us from Washington is Matt Welch. He’s the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine. Thanks for joining us, Matt.

MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me.

JAY: So, Matt, what do you make of Gingrich’s campaign against this bad capitalism of Romney and the squabble over it?

WELCH: I think it unquestionably backfired. There are so many different ways to go at Mitt Romney that the campaign against him in the Republican primary, even an open Republican primary in a very independent state, you can campaign against him by saying that he doesn’t have any credible plans [incompr.] government. You can say that he’s the biggest flip-flopper in the race. If you care about abortion one way or the other, you can say that he’s changed his mind on that. There are so many different ways—including ways that I find very illegitimate—to attack Mitt Romney for.

And then—so to attack the way that he ran Bain Capital in a Republican primary just struck not only me but a lot of people as bizarre. I mean, it resonates with the Democratic audience to some degree, but Gingrich had no ability to compete for Democrats and independents in New Hampshire against John Huntsman and [incompr.] sort of united conservative commentariat for once in defense of Mitt Romney, who they otherwise feel lukewarm for. So I think it completely backfired on Newt Gingrich. It might work for Barack Obama, but not for Newt Gingrich in the New Hampshire primary.

JAY: Megan, what’d you make of it?

MEGAN CARPENTIER, EXEC. EDITOR, RAW STORY: Well, I found Gingrich’s defense of it last night fairly interesting. He actually said that he wasn’t—it wasn’t a call for more government regulation of companies like Bain, but for Bain and Romney to behave in a more moral way within capitalism. And the sight of Newt Gingrich calling for more morality in politics seemed somewhat amusing to me.

I think Matt’s completely right, though. You have a Republican candidate from, you know, the fiscal and social conservative side claiming that a certain variety of capitalism, particularly free-market capitalism, is out of bounds for his Republican competitor. I think you saw a lot of Republicans and conservative commentators come out against it, a lot of thoughtful people. Last night John Sununu, the former White House chief of staff, actually called it a socialist attack on Mitt Romney. So he’s facing a lot of pushback from within his own party. The real question is whether Gingrich will continue with his campaign in South Carolina even though it’s hurting him within his own party, or whether he’ll scale back in response to this criticism from inside the Republican establishment.

JAY: Well, Matt, is part of the issue here that Gingrich is doing a calculation that you look at Ron Paul’s campaign and you can see there’s a constituency that the Republican establishment doesn’t like, but it does wind up going out and voting in a primary? And maybe the popular mood right now is so much against Wall Street and big banks and, you know, tying Romney in with this kind of, you know, greed mentality, maybe his calculation is, well, it doesn’t matter if the Republican establishment doesn’t like it; I may be able to tap into something the way Ron Paul’s tapping in on the foreign policy side.

WELCH: I think he’s just reaching for any club he can grab at. Also I think that his perspective—I mean, remember, this is a guy who defended his lobbying, effectively, for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac where he made a lot of money. He said, oh, that was private sector work. I mean, when you’ve been in Washington for 35 years, mostly in government, and then kind of in these quasi governmental superPACs and think tanks and stuff, you kind of lose perspective. And the free market is not the place where you cash in on government service to make millions of dollars from Fannie and Freddie Mac. You know?

And so this perspective, from his point of view—and Rick Santorum kind of bolstered it; he didn’t exactly oppose it—this is reflective of a modern strain in conservatism, which has actually lost its sort of passionate pro-free enterprise values. I mean, Mitt Romney, even, is not a big free-enterprise guy. He’s just sort of a big-business, Chamber of Commerce kind of Republican. Ron Paul is the last voice of the kind of radical free enterprise, and he defended these attacks on Mitt Romney. He’s no fan of Mitt Romney. And, in fact, he’s hoping to wheedle this whole campaign down to a two-man race, in which you’re going to see some serious differences of opinion between the two.

But I think Gingrich just doesn’t really have the sense of understanding or defending free enterprise in any way and he just sees an opportunity. And, I mean, as for South Carolina, whether he’s going to do this, he’s got a $5 million documentary about to drop, a half-hour thing, a superPAC that’s supporting him that is going to attack MittRomney in South Carolina. So, yes, he’s going to be riding this to the bitter end. And he’s going to, I think, ruin his reputation among Republicans, and all I can say to that is that it’s about 15 years overdue.

JAY: Well, it’s a heck of a lot more interesting debate now going on in the Republican Party than is (at least at any public level) going on in the Democratic Party. Megan, what do you make of the rise of Ron Paul? We talked a bit about it last time, but he certainly seems to be consolidating his position at second place. And if you look at the demographics, he’s got the lion’s share of the younger vote that’s coming out. In fact, he’s almost the only candidate in this field that gets youngish votes.

CARPENTIER: I think it’s very interesting that he gets a lot of the young vote. I think part of that is you have a lot of people in their 20s who their whole memory of this country is being at war, being that we started—. You know, Ron Paul himself voted for war powers on September 14, 2001, and now it’s January 2012. So we’re going [incompr.] 11 years [incompr.] For a lot of young people, particularly in college, that’s their whole memory. So I can see where Ron Paul’s antiwar positions now are very popular with them.

I think a lot of his positions on domestic policies, particularly being as he’s the only major candidate of either party right now to support marijuana policy, legalization and medical marijuana, is actually a very popular position among young people and college students, who tend to lean—even when they’re fiscally conservative or even socially conservative, tend to lean more libertarian on questions like marijuana, on same-sex marriage, and even, to some degree, on states’ rights when it comes to reproductive choice.

JAY: Well, what do you make of the argument, Megan, that Matt made last time that progressives that agree with a lot of the foreign-policy positions of libertarians—you know, massive cuts to the military budget, end—essentially, end of empire as a policy, which means closing down most of the thousand military bases, and so on. Matt last time said to you that, you know, whether you like all of Paul or you don’t, people should like this debate that’s going on in the Republican circles, and in that sense, people should sort of support Paul pushing this. Do you accept that argument?

CARPENTIER: I don’t really accept that argument, actually. I think that while it’s great—I think each candidate should have an opportunity to express their views, to have a robust debate. I think when you look at the GOP primary and the way the debates in particular have been designed, you have a real focus on what are considered the top-tier candidates of any given debate, whether that is Herman Cain or Rick Santorum in the last debate or Mitt Romney all along, rather than a really robust debate about all the issues that spurred these candidates to get into the races.

As for looking at his foreign policy, I’d actually say, listening to his speech last night, it’s more nuanced than just getting out of, you know, all our bases abroad. He actually specifically said, although cutting down on war profiteering would reduce the military budget, he doesn’t plan to spend any less on national defense. So that’s a little different than, say, a real pacifist position on U.S. military spending. It’s a lot about reducing the military-industrial complex, rather than, you know, a wholesale [elimination] of what money we spend on the military, which is [incompr.] to me to be kind of a sop to the folks in the Republican Party who are concerned with a strong national defense.

JAY: What do you make of that, Matt? Is Ron Paul sort of mitigating or modifying his position? My memory in the past is he was pretty clear-cut on the issue of, you know, end to empire, close down the bases. He even made a speech at the end of the Republican convention, when they had their alternative convention going on last time, was that he said if there was ever a draft instituted, he would actually advise active civil disobedience and refusing to go to a draft, and it was a very militant speech. He’s not sounding like that right now, is he?

WELCH: Oh, he’s been consistent on this. I mean, what—the distinction that he’s drawing is not that—is basically that don’t confuse the military budget with defense spending. That was his dichotomy there, between military and defense, which is an important point to make, actually, because the way that people who try to make politics out of, you know, trims in projected growth of defense budget spending, which is what we have on the table right now, they say you’re hurting national defense. He says no, our foreign, you know, projection of empire out there isn’t actually defending the country. Our military-industrial complex isn’t about defense; it’s about perpetuating budgets and these types of things. So he would cut the actual dollar amount that we spend on military spending and defense, or however you want to call it, by radical amounts, amounts that are totally unpalatable to everyone else in the Republican field. But what he’s saying is that that is not going to make us less susceptible to attack, that we will still be able to defend ourselves. That’s that whole thing. And he’s not really modifying that.

The question will be, going into South Carolina, which is a big military state, is how does that translate? And right now he’s pulling in fourth place there at around 10 percent. But I think people might be a little bit quick, jumping the gun, saying that, you know, you can’t talk like that in South Carolina. There have been some preliminary indications here and there in South Carolina that just in the same way that Ron Paul gets more donors from active military duty than the other candidates do, that people who have, you know, a more immediate connection with military service are finding that message persuasive. There are people coming back from war saying, why were we in Afghanistan? And they don’t really have a good answer. So it’ll be really interesting to see how that plays out in South Carolina.

JAY: Yeah, it’s not so clear that a military—a state that has lots of soldiers in it is going to be so pro-interventionist policy. As you say, a lot of the soldiers coming back have come back very, very disillusioned by it all. Megan, let’s look forward to South Carolina. So Gingrich—I guess, it’s this billionaire who owns the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas dropped $5 million into Gingrich’s coffers, and he’s going to spend, I guess, most of it in South Carolina. Do you—what’s your assessment? Is it going to make any difference?

CARPENTIER: I don’t think that Gingrich has much of a chance in South Carolina. He’s not been polling very well. He’s already failed to sort of crack the top tier in two primaries in a row. He’s—you know, this spending that he’s doing on this anti-Bain documentary isn’t sitting well with fiscal conservatives. Last night he looked pretty defeated. I think he thought that somehow a week, you know, three days, effectively, of this Bain trailer running would help him out in New Hampshire, and it really didn’t. You know, obviously social conservatism has a much bigger streak in South Carolina. Obviously Mitt Romney has problems among social conservatives. I think Jon Huntsman has a few problems among social conservatives as well. But in Iowa, when you look at the social conservative vote, those people all broke for Rick Santorum. So I think going into South Carolina, Newt Gingrich is going to have a lot of problems, and ditto going into Florida. He’s just not polling well, he’s not doing well. And I don’t think pouring money into the race with so little time between now and when voters step into the polling booths [incompr.]

JAY: Right. Now, after our last panel, we got a lot of reaction. And some of the comments were taking you on, Megan, saying that, well, you’re critiquing Ron Paul, and you were specifically in that interview going after Ron Paul wants to pull out of the UN and some other global organizations. And so they’re saying, well, what foreign policy does Megan want anyway? She probably wants all these military bases. So give us a quick answer on that. What parts of Ron Paul’s policy do you agree with?

CARPENTIER: In terms of foreign policy, I think it’s important to have a debate about whether we should be involved in multiple military interventions and occupations abroad. I was opposed to the Afghanistan war. I was opposed to the Iraq War. Where I grew up, a lot of my classmates from high school, a lot of my classmates from college went into the military. So I have a lot of lifelong friends who have fought and been injured abroad. I’m not a fan of that. I don’t support those wars, though I support the soldiers who, especially in these economic times, don’t often have a lot of other opportunities to either pay for college or make a living, particularly in small rural Rust Belt places like where I grew up. But at the same time, to pull out of every sort of international interaction to me seems to be attempting to sort of close the shutters, pull the blinds, and pretend that this isn’t a globalized world and a globalized economy.

JAY: No, but we’re—but I’m asking about military, not UN and these sorts of things. I mean, do you agree with the basic idea that there should be a closing of the bases, and get rid of the interventionist military posture?

CARPENTIER: Well, the interventionist military posture, depending on how you define that, is part of a larger discussion about foreign policy and military that includes economic priorities. I think you saw last night John Huntsman in particular make a very significant connection between national security and our economic policies internally and towards the world. So there’s a lot of debate. No, I don’t think we should be going to war at the drop of a hat. I don’t think that having bombing campaigns that kill civilians but are never sort of featured on American television is very helpful. If we really want to go to war as a country, if there is a consensus, which there was in Afghanistan, and which by and large there was, unfortunately, when we went into Iraq, then we really need to see, I think, what it is that we’re doing in those countries and what it is that that’s doing to our troops and our morale as a country. And I think waging these kind of we’re going to bomb a bunch of people and, you know, the cameras will cover the explosions but not the aftermath is one way of allowing the American people to keep an emotional distance from the kind of damage that we’re doing.

JAY: Matt, you say this looks like it may come down to a two-man race. I suppose it depends to some extent how Paul does in South Carolina. But if it does, it’s going to be quite remarkable debates, assuming Romney will debate Ron Paul one-on-one and whether television will carry such a thing. Well, what’s—what do you think?

WELCH: I mean, for one, Ron Paul, unlike Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and certainly Rick Perry, who I think is [incompr.] Paul has a 50-state infrastructure and plan, coherent plan, and the ability to raise money at the drop of a hat through his supporters, which is something that the other guys can’t do, and he’s in it for an education campaign. So he’s going to go to the finish line. And that’s how you’re going to see him come in second. This guy has gotten twice as many votes so far as Newt Gingrich. Think about that for a second.

But—so going forward, I think, yes, Romney will have to debate him. And the question will be: is this going to be like a Bill Clinton/Jerry Brown situation, where there wasn’t much of a debate by the time it came down to those two people, and most people felt kind of content to cede the whole thing to Clinton and not listen to what Jerry Brown had to say in 1992 [incompr.] because of the way that the schedule is set up, you can’t win this thing outright on Super Tuesday. The delegates are being kind of parsed out differently this time around. So I think if it comes down to those two—and there’s a decent chance that that can happen—then Romney’s going to have to go on the attack.

And we will—it’ll be a very clarifying moment for the future not just of the Republican party, but of the country, I think, when you have these very, very divergent ideas and philosophies debating one another. And the question that Romney will have to grapple with, which is something that Jim DeMint in South Carolina has been talking about just today, is: do you go full-metal anti-Paul? And we’ve already seen conservatives, when they want to attack Ron Paul, it gets—it’s amazing to behold. I mean, he is an absolute lunatic anti-semi racist who needs to be stopped at all costs, he’s the sign of everything that’s wrong with the world kind of thing. So is Romney going to go there? And if so, then what happens to the people who are attracted to Paul, and what is their—which is young people, it’s independents, and it’s people who want to revive this long-buried tradition in the Republican Party. Are you going to turn those people off of the Republican Party for a generation?

With the fluidity in this race and just how bizarre American politics have been for a while and Republican politics for a while, it’s really hard to make predictions what’s going forward. So I’m just kind of looking forward to what that’s going to look like a month from now. Keep in mind, a month ago Newt Gingrich was the national frontrunner. So we don’t know what the world’s going to look like a month from now.

JAY: Alright. Well, thank you both for joining us. And hopefully we’ll do this again after South Carolina.

WELCH: Thank you.

CARPENTIER: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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