The race for the Republican presidential nomination just keeps getting racier because of issues involving race.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – powered to victory in Saturday’s South Carolina primary by his talk of food-stamp presidents, making poor kids work as janitors and by – as one woman put it – “putting” Fox News’ Juan Williams “in his place” for suggesting that black people might be offended by such talk – is surging in the polls as the presidential contest moves to Florida for its Jan. 31 primary.
The campaign may have left the Palmetto State – which still proudly flies the Confederate flag on the state capital grounds – for the Sunshine State, but the racial circus that is the 2012 GOP quest for the White House continues.
And Gingrich continues to be the ringmaster.
He put up his first television ad in Florida Monday with footage of the Georgia Republican repeating his Obama-as-food-stamps- president line from one of the televised Republican debates.
Rep. Allen West of Florida, one of two black Republicans in the House of Representatives, doubled down on Gingrich’s “food stamps president” mantra in television interviews Monday.
“There is no race code. It’s a fact,” West told Fox News. “Since President Obama has been in the Oval Office, you’ve seen a 41 percent increase in the food stamp recipients in the United States of America. We have a president that’s making more American victims rather than victors.”
But FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan truth-squad project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center Public Policy Center, called Gingrich’s claim wrong.
While the number of people on food stamps is at a historic high at 46,224,722 people and has risen sharply under Obama, Gingrich plays pretzel with the truth when he says Obama has put more people on food stamps then any other president, FactCheck.org says.
So, which president is the real food stamps champ? That would be former President George W. Bush, according to FactCheck.org. Based on U.S, Department of Agriculture statistics dating back to 2001, the number of food stamp recipients rose by 14.7 million people during Bush’s presidency.
“Nothing before comes close to that,” FactCheck.org explained. “And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program so far has grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s tenure than Bush’s.”
It’s possible that when the January 2012 food stamp figures are released that Obama could match or exceed Bush’s figures, but “the number (of people) getting food stamps declined by 43,528 in October … And the economy has improved since then,” FactCheck.org says.
And as for the imagery conveyed by some Republican presidential candidates that food stamps is mainly a black thing, USDA statistics suggest otherwise.
As of September 2010, 36 percent of food stamp recipients were white, 22 percent were black and 10 percent were Hispanic, according to the USDA.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who swore he said “blah people” and not “black people” when he was talking about welfare to Iowa voters earlier this month, didn’t venture into race while campaigning at a predominately black house of worship in Florida Sunday. But one of his campaign surrogates did.
Santorum visited the World Christian Center, a ministry in Pompano Beach, Florida, run by Rev. O’Neal Dozier. After Santorum left, Dozier played both the race and religion cards, saying blacks can’t vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination because he’s a Mormon.
“The American people are not going to vote for anyone of the Mormon faith,” the black conservative preacher told The Palm Beach Post Sunday. “Blacks are not going to vote for anyone of the Mormon faith … The Book of Mormon .. says the “Negro skin is cursed.”
Dozier initially supported Herman Cain before reports of serial infidelity forced him out of the presidential race. Dozier – who once described Muslims as “terrorists,” called Islam a “cult” and said gays “make God want to vomit” – told a local newspaper that he decided to saddle up with Santorum because the former Pennsylvania senator is “not a politically correct kind of guy.”
As Santorum and the other Republican presidential candidates crisscrossed Florida Monday in search of votes, a panel of black conservatives convened in Washington and pondered why the majority of black Americans are so hostile towards the GOP.
Fred Solomon, a conservative Alabama activist, said part of the problem stems from liberals’ “intellectual dishonesty, ignorance and foolishness.”
“Regrettably, this ignorance of truth of the facts makes people susceptible to professional race hustlers that sell racial division, outright lies and hatred,” Solomon said at the Capitol Hill forum hosted by West. “Sprinkle a heavy dose of far-left pop culture, and, presto, you have foolishness at warp speed.”
Former Rep. J.C. Watts of Texas, a Gingrich campaign adviser who was one of two black Republicans in the House in the early 1990s, suggested that the Republican Party shares some of the blame for the turn-off by blacks.
“Do we have anybody from the RNC here this morning? Do we have anybody here from the (Republican) senatorial committee?” Watts said at the forum. “How many people do we have at the strategic table at any of the presidential campaigns … Somebody that looks like us needs to be at the strategic table to say ‘I know what you’re trying to say, but I wouldn’t say it like that.'”
The GOP has talked over the years about becoming more inclusive, but has little to show for outreach efforts that some black Republicans, like Watts, have characterized as spotty at best.
In 2005, then-Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman issued an apology to civil rights groups and leaders for his party playing the race card to woo white voters in the past.
“Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization,” Mehlman said at the 2005 NAACP convention. “I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”
Michael Steele became the first black person to chair the RNC, but his tenure was a stormy one in which some GOP donors who disapproved of Steele’s leadership circumvented the RNC and gave money directly to candidates or other Republican organization.
Steele acknowledged that there were some in his party who had problems with “this six-foot-four bald guy who’s talking about hip-hop Republicans.”