Newt Gingrich rolls with the punches to give opponents a headache


Los Angeles

For now, the Newt Gingrich bandwagon rolls on.

The former US Speaker enhanced his standing in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, emerging virtually unscathed from his first debate since assuming the mantle of frontrunner from Mitt Romney.

In Des Moines, Iowa, Gingrich spent two hours of Saturday night parrying assaults on his character, marital fidelity, political consistency, business career, and foreign policy credentials, as rivals attempted to find a productive line of attack for the days and weeks ahead.

The fact that he managed to roll with the punches leaves other candidates with a growing headache this late in the political calendar. There are just 22 days to go until the Iowa Caucuses, and Gingrich now has a clear lead in every early-voting state with the exception of New Hampshire.

Thus far, the GOP race has resembled a game of musical chairs, with first Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, and more recently Herman Cain enjoying spells as the most talked-about alternative to Mitt Romney, the longstanding favourite who has nonetheless failed to increase his support above a lukewarm 28 percent in the polls. But their support has tended to collapse under proper scrutiny.

By contrast, Gingrich was a case-study in steadiness. He dealt calmly with criticisms of his private life, acknowledging that he has “made mistakes” in past marital infidelities and  saying he is changed from the errant husband who has famously cheated on not one, but two  ex-spouses.

“I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness. I’ve had to seek reconciliation,” Gingrich said, stressing his conversion to Catholicism and suggesting that his days of sexual adventure are past, saying: “I am a 68-year-old grandfather.”

On the foreign policy front, Mr Gingrich doubled down on controversial comments he gave to a Jewish television station last week, in which he claimed that the Palestinians were an “invented people” and described them as “terrorists.”

“I think sometimes it is helpful to have a president of the United States with the courage to tell the truth, just as was Ronald Reagan,” he said, to warm applause from the overwhelmingly conservative audience. “I will tell the truth, even if it’s at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid.”

Later, Gingrich turned around an attack by Mitt Romney on his alleged status as a “career politician,” pointing out that Romney has spent most of the past 20 years seeking high office, but has consistently failed to win high-profile elections. “The only reason you didn’t become a career politician is, you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994,” he said.

It was a notably poor night for Romney, who at one point committed what pundits called an unforced error by seeking to casually strike a $10,000 bet with Texas Governor Rick Perry over a disputed point of fact regarding healthcare.

The size of the proposed wager served only to highlight the vast wealth Romney has made in the venture capital industry, which critics say makes him out-of-touch. Seeking to gamble also puts Romney at odds with the teachings of the Mormon Church, in which he is a former bishop.

Perhaps the only real blow against Gingrich came via Michele Bachmann, who mocked him for his recent carrer lobbyist on K Street (“The Rodeo Drive of Washington DC”) and criticised him for having in the past taken allegedly-liberal positions on healthcare and climate change.

Ms Bachmann, who is still pitching herself as a right-wing alternative to establishment candidates, claimed that Gingrich and Romney share centrist positions on an array of topics, and dubbed them: “Newt Romney.”

That nickname, which amused many in the audience, seems likely to be given another airing at the next GOP debate, on Thursday in Iowa. In the meantime, one person who will be cheering Gingrich's rise is Barack Obama.  A new NBC poll suggests he would narrowly lose the key states of Florida and Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney next November, but is in line to beat Gingrich there, handily.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine