I so, so, so wish that Buddy Roemer, the former Louisiana governor who has attempted to mount a reform campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, had been allowed to participate in Monday night’s GOP debate in Tampa.
Roemer’s been excluded from the debates by the political and media powers that be. But we really needed him Monday night because the GOP’s only ethics-and-clean politics candidate would have know exactly how to respond to wrangling between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He would have listened to the charges of corruption and abuse, of lobbying and vulture capitalism, and he would have agreed—with both Romney and Gingrich.
Barely ten minutes into the NBC/St. Petersburg Times/National Journal debate, the leading Republican contenders were screeching at one another—and completely ignoring the two other candidates who made it onto the stage, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
“I think [the election is] about leadership and the Speaker was given an opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994. And by the end of four years, he had to resign in disgrace,” Romney roared. “In the fifteen years after he left the Speakership, the Speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington.”
“I’m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney’s misinformation,” countered Gingrich, who seemed to be suggesting that he would not take the bait. “This is the worst kind of trivial politics.”
But, in no time, Gingrich was engaging in, um, the worst kind of trivial politics.
Accusing Romney of making “false charges,” the former Speaker then whined: “There’s a point in this process when it gets unnecessarily personal and nasty, and that’s sad.” He said he was not going to “waste the time” trying to counter Romney. It was a classic dismissive move. But Romney was not going to let him get away with it.
The former Massachusetts governor, until this debate an above-the-fray front-runner, was not about to abandon the go-for-the-jugular politics he is now employing to revive a campaign that—while certainly not finished—has stumbled badly.
“You said you were paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac as an historian,” the former governor said of Gingrich’s most controversial lobbying, er, counseling. “They don’t pay people $25,000 a month for six years as an historian.… This contract proves that you were not an historian, you were a consultant.”
Again, Romney accused Gingrich of “influence peddling.”
The former governor then started talking about Republican congressmen who had said that Gingrich lobbied them on behalf of the behemoth that gets blamed for making a mortgage crisis.
The former House Speaker responded with the presidential debate equivalent of the schoolyard response “Did not!”
The former Massachusetts governor gave him the debate equivalent of a “Did too!”
Then Romney used Gingrich’s just-released Freddie Mac contract to reveal the extent to which the former Speaker had reaped embarrassing earnings.
Cornered, Gingrich pivoted to an attack on Romney’s background as a vulture capitalist: “What’s the gross revenue of Bain during the years you were working for them?”
When that didn’t quite fly, Gingrich went all college professor on Romney. Recalling the negatives Romney peddled in his failed 2008 run for the nomination, the former Speaker said: “I understand your technique, which you used on McCain, you used on Huckabee. It’s unfortunate and it’s not going to work very well, because the American people see through it.”
It was wild and edgy, as intense as presidential debates get. Romney and Gingrich went back and forth at one another, interrupting, charging, challenging.
And the funny thing is that they were both right.
Gingrich was, by all evidence, a lobbyist for a firm that had a hand in the foreclosure crisis
Romney was, by all evidence, a self-serving economic opportunist who raided companies and communities in pursuit of ill-gotten gain.
Ron Paul and Rick Santorum took some pokes at the front-runners—indeed, Santorum got off a decent “there is no difference between President Obama and these two gentlemen” riff late in the debate. But neither of the other contenders stated the obvious: the leading contenders for the GOP nod embody everything that leads Americans to dismiss politicians as crooks.
Buddy Roemer would have pointed that out. Indeed, he would have called Romney and Gingrich out.
That’s what was missing at Monday’s debate—the truth that both these men have histories that should disqualify them from contention.
Buddy Roemer could not speak that truth on the stage in Tampa.
But he did tweet it: “The two frontrunners: A lobbyist and corporate shill. Why are they on top? They have the most $$. We can do better”
Amen to that.