THE VILLAGES, Fla.—Newt Gingrich’s schedule, 72 hours before the Florida primary, goes like this: church, parking lot of a retirement mega-city, church. His only speech of the day is here, in a grove of tidy homes and souped-up golf carts. As the Villagers stand, or sit in their chairs, or stay in their carts to sip Arizona Iced Tea or frappes, Gingrich explains why Barack Obama is failing them.
“He recently vetoed the Keystone pipeline,” says Gingrich.
Boo! Boo! Boo!
"Now, think about it! He did it to appease left-wing environmental extremists in San Francisco.”
Ugh, mutters a retiree near the press riser. Gingrich laid on the scares with a trowel; an ugh was the least he could do.
“Think about what would come of this,” Gingrich continues. “Here was an opportunity to have oil come from Canada through the United States, to the largest petrochemical complex in the world, in Houston. It would have provided jobs for the next 50 years, processing the oil, sending some of it to the ports overseas, so you'd got jobs for the ports, jobs for the refineries, jobs from building the pipeline. He canceled all that. Right now the Canadians are looking seriously at a partnership with China.”
From what I could gather, Gingrich’s audience knew about the Keystone XL pipeline before he started talking. They felt the same way he did.
“For Obama not to do it is a disgrace to this country,” said Bob Levens, a retiree with his shoulder in a sling—a necessity before surgery on some torn muscles. (Consolation prize: Rick Santorum had signed the sling.) “He is stopping the workforce and the energy that we need right now. I don’t know where his thinking is. He’s giving $1 billion to George Soros to start buying oil from South America, from Hugo Chavez.”
Jim Oddie, a scuba instructor who’d driven an hour to see Gingrich, ticked off the reasons Obama might have nixed the pipeline. “He doesn’t play for our team,” he said. “He wasn’t raised in the mainland of the United States. He doesn’t think America is exceptional. Come on—he grew up in Hawaii in 1961 when it had been a state for less than two years. Spent time in Indonesia.”
If Newt Gingrich loses Florida, his attacks and tweaks and talking points will be written off; they didn’t work. That’s the wrong way to think about Gingrich. If he loses, he’s returning to the role he held before his presidential bid: a pundit with a psychic bond to the conservative base and a knack for explaining what they should be scared of.