Crazy Newt trumps Mormon Mitt in US race to power

Yesterday saw one of the most shocking reversals ever in a US presidential primary election. Now, a thrice-married, erratic right winger looks like he might be the man set to challenge Obama.

It was the moment American politics suddenly burst into life. Until yesterday it was widely assumed that November’s battle for the most powerful job in the world would be fought between the cerebral Barack Obama and the managerial Mitt Romney – two totally contrasting men united by their squeaky clean personal stories and moderate style.

But yesterday in the Republican primary election in South Carolina a third actor in the drama forced his way onto centre stage, grabbing the limelight in what has already been called by the New York Times, one of the most astonishing turnarounds ever in an American primary campaign.

What has stunned political commentators all over the world is that, in this deeply religious ‘bible belt’ state of America, the man voters turned to is silver-haired Newton Leroy Gingrich, known as ‘Newt’, a prominent Washington politician who was fined $300,000 in 1997 for ethics violations; is now onto his third marriage, and was accused on national television on Wednesday by his second wife of asking for permission to keep a mistress.

He convincingly trumped his rivals with 40% of the vote, leaving Mitt Romney trailing with 28% and the two other contenders Rick Santorum and Ron Paul looking weak with 17% and 13% respectively.

Gingrich still has a very long way to go before being chosen by his Republican Party to stand against the Democrat Party’s global political superstar, Barack Obama.

He has to fight many more primary elections in many more states against the far wealthier political machine of his main Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

But not only is he now seen as the man with momentum, he has one major fact of electoral history on his side: for the past 30 years without fail, every Republican who has won in South Carolina has gone on to challenge for the presidency.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile – known as ‘the Massachusetts moderate’ for his sensible but dull record as governor of that state – is struggling under the burden of being considered not a true Christian (he is a devout Mormon), too rich to understand ordinary people (he made millions in business) and an intellectual plodder (he is boring on TV).

Passion or polish?

The Obama team responded to news of Mr Gingrich’s victory yesterday by calling him ‘crazy Newt’, based on his reputation as ‘too impulsive’ to be president and having too messy a past for the taste of most American voters.

But many US analysts are beginning to wonder: have Americans become tired of the perfectly polished politician, always calm and smooth and morally spotless? Is there a desire instead for a more real human being; flawed, emotional but also exciting, full of ideas and passion?

You Decide

  1. Would you vote against a politician because you did not like something in their personal life, even if what they had done was perfectly legal?
  2. Do you think an experienced politician is better qualified to lead a modern nation than an experienced chief executive, academic, military commander or teacher? Why?

Activities

  1. Write down three questions for Newt Gingrich that you would like someone to ask him on TV. Try to make them questions that will force him to reveal his true character so you can decide whether you would trust him as your leader.
  2. Using the links below, listen to the speech by Mitt Romney and the speech by Newt Gingrich. Write a short essay comparing and contrasting their different visions. Which is closer to your own view?

Some People Say...

“A politician who admits mistakes is better than a politician who is always right.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So if ‘Crazy Newt’ was the most powerful man in the world, what difference would it make?
The world would notice three main changes. First, the American government machine would be drastically cut back in an effort to balance the budget. Second, America would revert to its default position as an entrepreneurial, individualistic, English-speaking society, turning away from the more multicultural and pluralistic country that Barack Obama has championed. Third, American undercover operations against rogue countries such as Iran would be far more aggressive.
And would it make good TV?
Yes, undoubtedly excellent. The Newt is a top writer and intellectual who has written over 20 books on politics and history. He loves quick thinking and ideas. Barack Obama has a superb command of language, brilliant debating skills and a first class brain. The two of them would be locked in seven three-hour television debates this autumn.

Word Watch

Cerebral
Brainy, from the Latin cerebrum, meaning brain. Barack Obama is called ‘cerebral’ not just because he is intelligent but because of his slightly aloof, professorial style. The word is not always meant as a compliment.
Bible belt
The so-called ‘bible belt’ is a region of America in which devout, socially conservative Christians are the dominant cultural force. For years, pleasing bible belt voters has been a crucial skill for any republican presidential candidate.
Mormon
The Mormon Church was founded in America during the 19th Century and has around 14 million members today, of whom around 6 million live in the USA (making them around 2% of the total population). Mormons call themselves Christians, but many more traditional Christians regard them with suspicion.

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