Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich talks to a protester… (Charlie Riedel / Associated…)
In an ornate room of the golden-domed Iowa Capitol building this morning, Newt Gingrich stepped before cameras to thank two state House speakers for their endorsements. Kraig Paulsen of Iowa and William O’Brien of New Hampshire had just given their blessings to his quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
But Gingrich had barely gotten a sentence out when a young man who had been sitting behind him -- perfectly positioned for the cameras, it must be said -- leaped out of his chair, moved toward Gingrich and yelled, “Mike check!”
That signaled to three other youngish adults who had been sitting behind Gingrich and his wife, Callista, to leap to their feet. They began clapping and chanting “Put people first! Put people first!” (Video below.)
Occupy Des Moines, which similarly interrupted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s news conference on behalf of Gingrich’s rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, had struck again.
The Gingriches didn’t flinch. They turned their backs to the cameras to watch the commotion behind them. The protesters were gently hustled out by security men in suits. When they were gone -- or seemed to be -- Gingrich turned back to the assembled members of the media and noted:
“You just saw the one-tenth of one percent. I was at the University of Iowa the other day and that same tenth of one percent -- all noise, no thought -- tried to drown out conversation, so I appreciate you all putting that in perspective.”
Gingrich, a former U.S. House speaker, said he was happy to have the endorsement of state House speakers.
“They know how hard it was to pass welfare reform, they know how hard it was to balance the federal budget, they know how hard it was to pass the first tax cuts in 16 years, and the largest capital gains tax cut in history, which brought unemployment down to 4.2%,” said Gingrich, recapping the high points of his turn as speaker -- an apparent indication that he believes he can evoke a certain kind of nostalgia for the good parts of what many saw as his disastrous turn at the helm of the House in the 1990s.
“Wouldn’t it be great to get back down to 4.2% unemployment? Wouldn’t it be terrific to create 11 million new jobs, as we did in four years when I was speaker. Wouldn’t it be great to have a balanced budget, and actually pay off the federal debt so we can pay off the Chinese rather than be blackmailed by them? And wouldn’t it be great to have an American energy policy that enables us to keep the money here at home and enables us to not worry about the Persian Gulf, the Straits of Hormuz?”
At that point, a protester named Ross Grooters, a 37-year old railroad engineer in a knit watchman’s cap, who had been sitting waiting for his opening, loudly chimed in:
“Wouldn’t it be great if you followed FDR and Woodrow Wilson, who you said you were fans of, Mr. Gingrich?”
“I was quoting Ronald Reagan,” Gingrich replied.
“Isn’t Ronald Reagan one of the people you supposedly support the ideals of …”
“Yes,” said Gingrich.
“And turned your back on…”
“Nope,” said Gingrich.
An awkward silence followed. Then a kind of calm.
“Anyway,” Gingrich said.
“I’d love to talk to you,” said Grooters, as the men in suits moved him out of the room in what seemed like slow motion. “Mr. Gingrich, you really do need to start putting the people first. You really do. I know there’s people between you and me but I’d really like to engage in a conversation with you, sir.”
“Not today,” Gingrich said. “When the press conference is over, I’ll talk to you. ... Of all the candidates we have, I have a fairly long record of being willing to talk to a very wide range of people. So let me go back for just a minute to the presidential campaign.”
But when the new conference ended about 10 minutes later, Gingrich didn’t stop to talk to Grooters. Instead, surrounded by security and trailed by cameras and scribes, he went down a flight of stairs, out a side door and into a waiting SUV.