Notes on Newt Gingrich in Staten Island

Posted on December 5, 2011

A few extraneous items that didn’t make it into my Salon piece on Gingrich’s campaign appearance in Staten Island this past weekend.

During a press availability session, Katrina Trinko, a reporter for the National Review, asked whether Donald Trump — whose presidential forum Gingrich announced earlier that morning he would attend — is “a true conservative.” Gingrich stared directly into Trinko’s eyes, with only a disdainful look on his face, and said nothing. This lasted for about six seconds, Trinko later estimated, but seemed longer. Trump is “a unique American character,” Gingrich eventually responded, noting that the two men both participated in a fundraiser several years ago for the Palm Beach Zoo.

Also during the press availability session, Gingrich had an exchange with a semi-journalist from MTV. “My name is Andrew Jackson, from MTV News,” a man said.

“Are you related to, like, the Andrew Jackson?” Newt asked, to chuckles.

“I wish,” Jackson muttered. “I’m taking the pulse of Young Americans. I was curious how you’re understanding the emotions and issues that young people are really facing in this election.” Gingrich suggested he did understand, and that the answer lied in providing young Americans with greater discretion over their retirements — by way of personal Social Security savings accounts.

Jackson asked a follow-up about student debt, and the idea that many young adults find themselves “having no choice but to sleep on their parents’ couch.”

“How does that make you feel?” he asked.

“That makes me feel terrible,” Gingrich replied. “Let me say, I keep in pretty close touch with younger Americans,” he added. “My grandchildren are 10 and 12.”

I asked if Gingrich if he believes that the police response to Occupy Wall Street in New York City has been appropriate. “I don’t know, because I frankly haven’t paid enough attention,” he replied. Fortuitously enough, though, Gingrich later praised Rudy Giuliani’s reform of policing practices in New York City, and suggested that similar streamlining methods be applied to other areas of bloated government bureaucracy.

Also during the press availability session, a woman who did not appear to be a journalist essentially requested that Gingrich riff on his relationship with Hispanics. Gingrich said that “we” — not sure exactly who he was referring to — have had “an office in Miami” for years. He suggested the U.S. should be involved in igniting a “Cuban Spring.” Another credential he offered to supposedly demonstrate how much he values the Hispanic vote? Aggressive drug interdiction policies:

“I helped launch Plan Colombia,” Gingrich said, “and it turned out to succeed, despite the opposition of many American liberals. I think that it’s very important to look at a similar program, as it relates to dealing with Mexico.”

After the address, Newt and his wife greeted supporters, signed books, and posed for photos with fully-uniformed Army soldiers, which I thought was odd and potentially in violation of some kind of protocol.

George Biegelmann, a Staten Island resident, lacked a book, but did bring along some glossy portraits of Gingrich from his days as House Speaker. “I believe he’s got a real good chance,” Biegelmann told me, adding that he hoped Gingrich would sign the portraits. (Indeed, it was Biegelmann’s lucky day!)

Also, the campaign organization was structured strangely, and seemingly with an eye toward generating revenue. Michelle Selesky, a deputy press secretary, explained that the book-signing portion of the event was being handled by staff from Gingrich Productions — Newt’s Washington-based media company — while the speech and Q&A session were the campaign team’s province. There’s no overlap, she said, between personnel who work for the two organizations. However, Selesky confirmed to me that another female employee, who had been distributing “Newt ‘12” stickers and providing logistical oversight throughout the afternoon, worked for Gingrich Productions.

Seemed a little off.

I leave you with a scary photo of Callista:

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