Juan Williams, Punching Bag

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 17 2012 4:32 PM

Juan Williams, Punching Bag

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. -- One pattern I'm noticing today: A tall glass of Haterade being served whenever anybody mentions Fox News contributor Juan Williams on the campaign trail. The consensus in every room of Republicans is that Williams was outmatched, repeatedly, and outmatched most impressively by Newt Gingrich. And it served him right, because he was trying to trap the candidates.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Juan Williams was there to give the Obama perspective," joked Ed Bignon, a construction company CEO, after a Gingrich town hall here. "He was trying to trap Newt into saying something about race."

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"Newt really showed him!" said C.J. Dodson, a friend of Bignon's.

Let's revisit the questions Williams asked.

- Governor Perry, are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?
- Governor Romney, your father was born in Mexico. You still have family there, yet you have taken the hardest line of anyone on this stage on immigration reform, including opposition to key parts of the DREAM Act, which is supported by 80 percent of Latinos in this country. Are you alienating Latino voters that Republicans will need to win the general election?
- Senator Santorum, the Obama administration has not specifically addressed high levels of joblessness and a 25 percent poverty rate in black America. They say they want to fix the economy for all, but given the crisis situation among a group of historically disadvantaged Americans, do you feel the time has come to take special steps to deal with the extraordinary level of poverty afflicting one race of America?
- Congressman Paul. An analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative finds that blacks who are jailed at four times the rate of whites in South Carolina are most often convicted on drug offenses. Do you see racial disparities in drug-related arrests and convictions as a problem? And if so, how would you fix it?
- Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?

Fine, there's a pattern there, but the Republican angst and irritation and the questions is ironic. Williams briefly became a conservative hero after he talked (on Fox) about fearing young Muslim men on planes, and NPR sacked him. (James O'Keefe has said he targeted NPR in a sting because of this). Williams said something that wasn't politically correct, and got in trouble. At the debate, he asked about topics that don't often make it into GOP events here, and he was labeled... yes, politically correct. "I know among the politically correct," sniped Gingrich, "you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable."

The consensus, again, is that Gingrich destroyed Williams. The two top stories at Gingrich's web site are about Williams, although I notice that one headline that used to refer to Gingrich "schooling" the commentator has been downgraded. The campaign's new ad is a 30-second recap of the answer.

Earlier, at a town hall in Aiken, Rick Santorum made a point about his economic policies by saying "I got into it with Juan Williams about this." That got big cheers.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.