Tulane welcomes, protests alumnus Gingrich

James Plummer Contributor
Font Size:

NEW ORLEANS — Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich returned to his graduate alma mater Tulane University Friday looking to scare up votes in advance of Saturday’s Republican Presidential primary in Louisiana.

Although bigger venues were available on the campus where he earned his doctorate in history in 1971, Gingrich spoke in a lecture hall seating approximately 300 people. About 400 people, mostly students, turned out for the speech. One who declined to attend was Phoebe Shepherd, a self-identified libertarian who “likes Ron Paul.”

“Newt Gingrich is the biggest sleazebag Republican candidate, and of course he went to Tulane!” Shepherd told The Daily Caller.

As Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere spoke at the start of the rally, organizers set up a stereo speaker outside the lecture hall to accommodate the overflow crowd. This did not sit well with Karen H. Johannesson, professor in the university’s Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences.

“It’s obnoxious that they’re blasting political speeches in the middle of the day,” she grumbled. “We’re trying to get work done.”

Johannesson complained to Gingrich’s security and campus police, who lowered the volume but did not turn off the speaker. Meanwhile, a protester who refused to be identified distributed fliers mocking Gingrich’s three marriages.

Inside, Villere handed the mic to Gingrich’s wife Callista. “Newt and I remain in the race because we think that America is at a crossroads,” Mrs. Gingrich said. “Our only opponent is Barack Obama. We need a leader who can articulate why President Obama is wrong for America.” (RELATED: Full coverage of the Gingrich campaign)

She then introduced her husband as “the next president of the United States.”

Gingrich strode to a podium that read, “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less,” referring to his promise to drive down gas prices to $2.50 a gallon as president. He began by talking about economics (Gingrich prefers Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman to John Maynard Keynes) and unemployment, suggesting that the long-term unemployed get an associate’s degree or receive another kind of retraining while collecting benefits.

Gingrich then defended his advocacy for the space program.

“I got in an argument with both Romney and Santorum over comments on the space program,” he smirked. “Saturday Night Live painted a pretty lively picture of it.”

Gingrich pointed out that John Kennedy did not receive such aggressive criticism from the media when he pledged to send a man to the moon within a decade. The former House speaker concluded his defense by saying, “I am here to tell you I am a conservative visionary. I actually taught a course at Tulane about the year 2000, so I’ve always been a visionary.”

Gingrich then compared the private enterprise of the Wright brothers versus failed government-funded attempts by the Smithsonian Institution to invent a working airplane. Before taking questions from the audience, he concluded by mocking the failed predictions of environmentalists such as Al Gore about nuclear winter and peak oil. The question-and-answer session was cordial. When asked about his time at Tulane, Gingrich proclaimed that “To live in New Orleans justifies going to Tulane. … The culture, the city, the sense of life is so unique.”

Although the crowd was largely polite, not all were supporters. When Gingrich mentioned that he had once taught environmental studies, one student whispered, “That’s terrifying.”

Tulane freshman Ambert Yeh told the Caller he was particularly impressed by Gingrich’s pledge to meet and search for common ground with every Democratic member of the Congress. That kind of pragmatism “appeals to our generation,” said Yeh.

But the overflow crowd outside wasn’t able to hear many such remarks by Gingrich. As he began to speak, Led Zeppelin music began blaring from Blessey Hall next door. Prof. Johannesson admitted to The Daily Caller that the music was her doing.

“That fatass. … I don’t care if he comes to talk, but I don’t think I should have to listen.” As Gingrich emerged from the back of the Richardson Hall to leave, Johannesson cried, “Boo! Go home!”

Louisiana Republicans will choose some of their delegates in a primary Saturday, but most will be chosen through a convention process beginning later this spring.

Follow James Plummer on Twitter