As for Thursday night’s debate: I think Newt Gingrich made a fatal error by appearing to patronize Michele Bachmann. This clearly angered Michele and, come showtime, she exacted revenge. Let’s go, as they used to say, to the videotape (or at least the transcript).
The issue was abortion. Bachmann was railing against Newt for supposedly refusing to defund Planned Parenthood when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives back in the 1990s.
Worse yet, she charged, Newt had pledged to “campaign for Republicans who are in support of the barbaric procedure known as partial-birth abortion. I could never do that,” Bachmann said. “I will be 100 percent pro-life from conception until natural death.”
This is beyond “hardball politics.” This is called “destroy your opponent” politics. Bachmann ought to be ashamed of herself for suggesting that Newt’s position on abortion is no different from extreme left-wing Democrats such as Barack Obama or Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
In fact, as Newt himself tried to explain, he had a “98.5 percent right-to-life voting record” during his 20 years in the Congress.
Gingrich said he did disagree with some (but not all) pro-life advocates on the initial Welfare reform bill. He supported it; they opposed it. But Welfare reform, he continued, had nothing to do with abortion. “I think my position [on life] has been very clear and very consistent.”
Now, if that was all Gingrich had said, he probably wouldn’t have a problem. He began his statement, though, with this comment: “Sometimes Congressman Bachmann doesn’t get her facts very accurate.”
This wasn’t the first time Newt had said this of Bachmann; and his professorial condescension toward her clearly has gotten under Bachmann’s skin.
“Can I have a rebuttal for getting my facts wrong?” she asked the debate moderator, Chris Wallace. “Because this isn’t just once.
I think it’s outrageous to continue to say, over and over through the debates, that I don’t have my facts right when, as a matter of fact, I do.
I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States, and my facts are accurate [emphasis added].
Speaker Gingrich said that he would actively support and campaign for Republicans who got behind the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. This is not a small issue. This is a big issue. And I think George Will was right when he asked that question: What virtue is there in tolerating infanticide?
Whoa. It’s one thing to charge Newt with being insufficiently bold and aggressive in defense of life. It’s another thing altogether, though, to charge him with “tolerating infanticide.” The Speaker’s record simply doesn’t support that vicious and vitriolic accusation, and shame on Bachmann for suggesting otherwise.
It is true that Newt said he would campaign for some “pro-choice” Republicans. However, as he pointed out in the debate, this is a pragmatic concession to political reality, not a statement of conviction or belief about life.
“What I said on that particular issue,” he explained, “is: I wouldn’t go out and try to purge Republicans. I don’t see how you’re gonna govern the country if you’re gonna run around and decide who you’re gonna purge.
The fact is, twice when I was speaker, we moved to end partial-birth abortion. Clinton vetoed it. We worked very hard… I have consistently opposed partial-birth abortion.
In fact, I would like to see us go much further than that and eliminate abortions as a choice. And I’ve said as president, I would defund Planned Parenthood and shift the money to pay for adoption services to give young women a choice of life rather than death.
I think that Newt is substantively right. The facts, it seems to me, clearly support his contention that he is deeply pro-life. However, as a purely political matter, I think it’s undeniably true that Bachmann bloodied Gingrich and got the better of this exchange.