Yesterday, I only made it to one campaign event thanks to a nasty head cold, which is why I didn’t write about this Newt Gingrich event on Sunday. The title of the event intrigued me — a “Hispanic town hall” event held at Don Quijotes, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Manchester. The idea of a Hispanic town hall in New Hampshire seemed a little puzzling, but not as puzzling as the venue itself once I arrived. The area of the restaurant only allowed for 50 or so seats, hardly an efficient use of two hours of candidate time on a Sunday. The media area was even smaller; I arrived early and got a chair and table near the window and with a clear sight line to the dais — until a couple of videographers blocked the view altogether, as the media area was even smaller than that for the “real people,” as Newt himself distinguished the attendees later.
At least, though, I thought I could hear the event and report via Twitter, rather than shoot some video. I was wrong, as my old friend Jonathan Last explains for the Weekly Standard in a delightfully accurate report called “The Siege of Newt“:
Outside Don Quijote’s, a group of Occupy Wall Streeters had massed. After milling about for some time, they decided to protest more actively. So they came up to the restaurant and banged on their drums and tapped on the windows. Gingrich gamely soldiered on, segueing into Lean Six Sigma and job creation. Then Vermin Supreme started in. …
Normally, Vermin Supreme is content hanging around outside campaign events chit-chatting and being wacky. But on Sunday, he brought his megaphone. And as Gingrich spoke and the Occupiers drummed, Vermin Supreme placed his bullhorn up against the window glass and began saying:
Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt. Surrender. We have you surrounded. Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt. Come out with your hands up and your pants down. Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt.
Even inside the building, standing about 35 feet from Gingrich, his badgering was loud. You might be surprised at how long a man could carry on like that—repeating the same stanza, over and over and over again, in the same monotonously addled cadence. I would have thought that even a fellow like Vermin Supreme might get tired of it after ten or fifteen minutes. Turns out, I was wrong.
The pushing started, then. The Occupiers were massing another force near the front door when others began pulling at one of the side doors, trying to get in. What with struggling to breach the keep, the drumming, and the incantations, the entire thing reminded me of the siege of Helm’s Deep. Only with smellier orcs.
If Jonathan thinks it was bad where he was, he should have swapped places with me. Unfortunately, my coveted chair and table were the closest to the window at which Vermin Supreme pointed his megaphone:
The Occupy protesters gathered outside the window, including a drummer, but they didn’t appear to number larger than 20, and would have been no issue at all had it not been for the bullhorn. The other two print reporters near me at the window fumed at the interference, but it got worse. A couple of videographers from the media pool decided to get more footage of Vermin Supreme after he had walked away by tapping on the window to encourage him to return — which, of course, he did, bullhorn in hand.
As Jonathan also relates, the event didn’t go smoothly for Newt, either. Despite this being billed as a Hispanic town hall, Gingrich’s remarks didn’t sound all that different than from other events. It took him a few minutes to get to immigration, for instance, after talking about health care and economics, stating specifically on the latter that it was an issue that went well beyond the Hispanic community. On immigration, Gingrich insisted that “Border security comes first,” adding that “we have a moral obligation” to help Mexico defeat drug cartels. “I’ve taken some heat,” Gingrich said, for proposing “a series of steps” to establishing a guest-worker program with a credential-verification system similar to “Visa, Mastercard, American Express.” In answer to a question on the DREAM Act, Gingrich replied, “DREAM Act? There are parts of it I like, not automatic citizenship.”
The questions got very contentious, though. Jonathan has more on the overall flavor of the dialogue, but it was hardly friendly. One African-American voter said that Gingrich had implied that all black people were on welfare, and said his remark was akin to something Adolf Hitler would have made about the Jews. Gingrich responded forcefully that his remarks had been misquoted, especially by Democrats. “The DNC took half of a sentence totally out of context,” Gingrich replied, “I said putting PEOPLE on paychecks.” Still, Newt seemed to enjoy the challenge of the Q&A, and still got his talking points through the hostile questions. He returned to the issue of anti-Christian hostility in the media and government, saying “It is fundamentally wrong to have government literally make the practice of religion illegal” in the name of diversity.
At the end, the crowd seemed anything but hostile. They mobbed Gingrich for handshakes and pictures, which went on for so long that the press avail later got moved twice, postponed, and then reinstated, which I ended up missing in the end.