Rancour as Gingrich and Romney spar in debate


Jacksonville, Florida

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, learned to his cost last night that he is not alone among Republicans vying for the presidential nomination able to conjure righteous indignation when it matters.  Mitt Romney showed a debate audience here that he has quite the talent for it too.

Barely had the last debate before Florida’s primary vote on Tuesday got under way before Mr Romney was blow-torching Mr Gingrich for having called him the most “anti-immigrant” of the party’s runners for the 2012 nomination in a radio ad this week. It was an explosion that set the tone of a frequently rancorous encounter that on occasion left Mr Gingrich if not quite speechless then visibly buffeted.

“Mr. Speaker, I’m not anti-immigrant,” Mr Romney began. “My father was born in Mexico.  My wife’s father was born in Wales.  They came to this country.  The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive.”   While Mr Gingrich had relented on Wednesday and taken the spot off the air, he had since stood by the central allegation that Mr Romney is against immigration and he tried again on the debate stage.

“That’s simply unexcusable,” Mr Romney said of the ad.  “That’s inexcusable.  And, actually, Senator Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate.”

The exchange recalled the final debate in South Carolina a week ago when Mr Gingrich tore not into Mr Romney but the moderator for raising claims made by his second wife that he had asked her for an open marriage to accommodate his relationship with his mistress – and now wife – Calista Gingrich. His fury was seen by many to have clinched his double-digit victory in that states primary two days later.

With the battle in Florida has turned so much immigration policy in part because of the pressure to retain the support of Hispanics who make up almost one quarter of the state’s population.  Mr Romney is expected to get a major boost tonight at an event in Orlando that reportedly will feature an endorsement for his candidacy from the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno. Earlier today he will speech to a Hispanic Leadership conference in Miami.

As for the debates, if audiences tune out after the first twenty minutes or so then last night’s surely belonged to Mr Romney and that may produce the kind of bump he sorely needs to prevent another Gingrich victory in Florida next week.  But not everything went his way here, not least with news of a new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll showing him trailing Mr Gingrich nationally 28 per cent to 37 per cent.

Mr Romney endured a searing attack from Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania, over the similarities between the healthcare reforms he introduced as governor of Massachusetts and the main planks of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform.  It also became clear that he was completely unaware of the existence of one his own attack spots against Mr Gingrich, also on the topic of immigration.

In a particularly intense back and forth between the two front-runners, Mr Gingrich pointed out that Mr Romney’s fortune come in tiny part from investments made in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two intensely unpopular government-backed mortgage institutions that have been centre-stage in the race because the speaker earning $1.6 million doing consulting work for the former. But the charge backfired on Mr Gingrich.

A nimble Mr Romney shot straight back that his portfolio is in a blind trust and he does not know where his trustees are investing his money.  “There are bonds that the investor has held through mutual funds and Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

Mr Gingrich, whose rise up the field after South Carolina has sent panic waves through the party establishment, also received incoming fire for suggesting in a speech this week that he would like a human colony on the moon within eight years, with money, he suggests, coming in part from private enterprise.

“The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it’s not a good idea and we have seen in politics and Newt, you’ve been part of this, go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear,” Mr Romney contended.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions