Poor Romney. He's back in the Newt nightmare. Here comes the portly Georgian, brushing aside the guards outside Romney's hotel suite, kicking open the bedroom door, seizing Romney by the throat ... Aaaargh! And then Romney is awake, realizing that this is a cold-sweat nightmare that will last ... maybe until they close in Florida on Jan. 31; maybe until Super Tuesday on March 6, when nine states hold their primaries.
We left Romney amidst the flush of victory in New Hampshire, with polls in South Carolina showing him a solid 10 points ahead of Gingrich, who made a poor showing in New Hampshire on top of a fourth place finish in Iowa below the Catholic zealot Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Santorum's a faded force now. (The fact that he and his wife boast of having taken their dead baby home from the hospital and placed it between their two living children, telling them that "Gabriel's an angel now" may have sat ill with some voters.)
Gingrich burned for revenge for his rough treatment in New Hampshire by Romney's campaign commercials. But how, on a tight timeline, to acquaint South Carolina Republicans with Romney's infamies?
He needed money, lots of it, double-quick.
In the old days there were certain pettifogging constraints on how much a billionaire could lavish on his favored candidate. But then came the "Citizens United" decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (split 5-4), issued in January 2010, ruling that the First Amendment, protecting free speech, prohibits the government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. As Ralph Nader correctly pointed out at the time, "With this decision, corporations can now directly pour vast amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars."
Enter 78-year-old Sheldon Adelson, the world's 16th richest man, with $23 billion at his disposal. His empire is anchored in the West in Las Vegas, in the East in Macao and he has a further stake in Israel, whence his second wife hails. On Israel, Adelson entertains harsh views on the advisability of negotiations of any sort with Palestinians and lately has been lobbying fiercely — he owns the largest circulation newspaper in Israel — for an attack on Iran. When Newt Gingrich, fishing for Zionist money, abandoned his previous relatively temperate posture on the Israel/Palestine issue and declared that Palestinians were an "invented people," he was directing his remarks to an audience of one.
Adelson was exceeding pleased and expressed his pleasure in material terms, with a further $5 million, now staking Gingrich's campaign ads in South Carolina. To date, Adelson has donated about $13 million to Gingrich's campaign — a U.S. record. The ads put out by the Gingrich forces derive in origin from Sen. Ted Kennedy's successful effort to defend his U.S. Senate seat from Romney's challenge back in 1994. The Kennedy campaign put together ferocious spots depicting Romney, erstwhile boss of the private equity firm Bain Capital, as one of the most vicious operators in the history of American capitalism, never happier than when taking over factories, destroying jobs, kicking workers into the snow, and sneering at the tears of their distraught wives and children.
Chunks of just such a film are now being broadcast by a Political Action Committee backing the Gingrich campaign in South Carolina. They are brilliantly done, so effective that The New York Times — evidently worried for the overall reputation of capitalism — ran a very comical piece last Sunday critiquing the commercials as going altogether too far and being marred by error. Gingrich announced piously, "I'm calling on them to either edit out every single mistake or to pull the entire film. They cannot run the film if it has errors in it." But the nominally independent Political Action Committee has refused, demanding a clarification interview with Romney.
South Carolina has been doing particularly badly in the current national slump. Tough talk about job-killers, particularly Mormon millionaire job-killers command a sympathetic audience. By Tuesday it became clear the ads were taking their toll on Romney. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of likely Republican primary voters nationwide showed Romney with 30 percent support and Gingrich surging, with 27 percent of the vote. Santorum who was running 2nd has now dropped down to 15 percent.
On Tuesday, Romney finally lifted a corner of the previously tightly sealed file containing his tax returns. The partial disclosure won't help him. He said his effective tax rate was "probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything." That 15 percent is on investment income — a huge perk for the very rich — as opposed to the higher rates on wages and salaries — up to 35 percent — paid by most Americans. He also deprecated his speaking fees last year of $374,327 as "not very much."
Gingrich represents one of the weirder confluences in American politics. Here's a committed devotee of tooth-and-claw capitalism — replete with 8-year-olds working as janitors — campaigning with a pro-worker film of which Ken Loach would be proud, paid for by a rabidly anti-union billionaire who thinks Israel should bomb Iran and drive the Palestinians into the sea.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.