Gingrich defends himself from charges of racial insensitivity, gets standing ovation
Although he remains stuck behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the polls, Newt Gingrich’s performance at Monday’s Fox News debate showed that the former House Speaker still has some fight left in him.
When asked about his comments about African-Americans, food stamps and allowing children to work as janitors in their schools, Newt Gingrich fired back with his strongest and most energized answer in any debate since December.
Moderator Juan Williams asked Gingrich if he could see why so many people, and particularly black Americans, would be insulted by his controversial statements.
“No, I don’t see that,” Gingrich said to applause.
[dcvideo videoid=”24779956″ name=”ndnPlayer_24779956″ type=”ndn” /]
The former House speaker then recounted how much his daughter Jackie, seated in the audience, enjoyed working her first job “doing janitorial work at age 13.” Jackie, he said, thought it was a “good start.”
He then told the story of a young entrepreneur who started making his own doughnuts at age 11. “His father’s thrilled he just turned 16, because he can now deliver his own doughnuts,” Gingrich joked, before arguing that his idea of letting children work at their schools was not only cost effective, but would teach young people basic skills and allow them to earn money.
“They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor,” Gingrich roared. “Only the elites despise making money.”
Williams did not let up, however, and said his email account was full of messages from “people of all races” wondering if Gingrich’s comments were intended to belittle minorities and the poor. The question was roundly booed. RELATED: Complete coverage of the 2012 elections)
“First off, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama then by any president in American history,” Gingrich said. “I know among the politically correct you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”
“Second, you’re the one who earlier raised a key point,” he continued. “The area that ought to be I-73 was called by Barack Obama a corridor of shame because of unemployment. Has it improved in three years? No — they haven’t built the road, they haven’t helped the people, they haven’t done anything.”
Gingrich’s comments about the I-73 road project, a contentious local issue in South Carolina, elicited prolonged applause. But Gingrich wasn’t finished.
“So here’s my point,” Gingrich said. “Every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness, and if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn some day how to own the job.”
He received a standing ovation.
Jeff Poor contributed to this story.
Follow Will on Twitter