Newt at the RJC: John Bolton for Secretary of State

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 7 2011 3:26 PM

Newt at the RJC: John Bolton for Secretary of State

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich arrives to speak during the Republican Jewish Coalition 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 7, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

It's funny how a poll surge or two gives an aura to a politician. Very little in Newt Gingrich's address to the RJC was new. He'd challenge Obama to seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, and "given the pressure of the blogs, talk radio, TV news, I doubt they could stand the pressure for more than a couple of weeks." He jokes that he's going to say something "politically incorrect," that "2+2=4." He name-checks one of the movies he's produced with his wife. Not new, but now grist for huge applause and breaking news stories.

What was sort of new? Gingrich's biggest applause lines. "On my first day in office," he said, "I will move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem." Massive applause. "And I will ask John Bolton to serve as secretary of state." Even bigger applause -- standing ovation, biggest applause he's gotten. This is expert dog-whistling, Gingrich saying a whole lot about his approach to Israel and the United Nations without laying it on too thick. He's also, according to Jackie Kucinich, saying something that flouts federal law about candidates promising appointments. But he's connecting culturally.


Gingrich closed out with another issue that shocks the retweet set, but hits certain base voters right in the medulla oblangata. He doubled down, again -- tripled down -- on his musings about letting young high schoolers make money by replacing janitors. He has moved the goalposts a little since first saying this -- instead of just janitors, he imagines roles for kids in cushier jobs like greeting people at offices. Gingrich teed it up by asking members of the crowd if they had made any money of their own by age 15. Almost every hand went up.

"When [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan used common sense forty years ago," he said, "the left went crazy. The left goes nuts when you argue you're going to let kids learn." Just imagine, he said, if kids learned personal responsibilty. "You'd have a more conservative country." It's a bit like the argument Grover Norquist has used for letting more people own stock, or George W. Bush used to deploy for increasing home-ownership.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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