Mitt Romney listens as Newt Gingrich makes a point in the Fox News/Wall Street… (Joe Raedle / Getty Images )
Newt Gingrich, displaying the combativeness that helped him rocket to the top of the GOP field back in November and December, faced off against Fox News commentator Juan Williams at the debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., over his suggestion that impoverished youths take janitorial jobs to learn the value of work.
Williams asked Gingrich if his comments weren't “insulting to all Americans," particularly, he said, black Americans.
Gingrich refused to leaven his past comments, saying that for the amount of money one New York City janitor earns, 30 kids could work. “They’d learn to show up for work,” the former House speaker said. “They could do light janitorial duties.”
PHOTOS: Republican presidential debate
Sparring with Williams, he added, “Only the elites despise earning money.”
Williams, however, was not cowed, asking Gingrich if wasn’t belittling African Americans by suggesting they lacked a work ethic and wondered aloud whether he was unfairly denigrating President Obama by labeling him “the food stamp president.”
The raucous crowd at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center booed lustily at Williams’ question.
“More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than by any president in American history,” Gingrich retorted. “Now I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”
The fact that the debate had fallen on Martin Luther King Day was a recurrent theme throughout the evening. Rick Santorum was asked how to reduce poverty in African American communities. He said that the key to avoiding poverty was finding a job, graduating from high school and marrying before having children. He said the Obama administration wasn’t doing enough to promote those goals.
“It’s a huge, huge opportunity for us,” Santorum said.