The air wars in a pivotal Florida Republican primary race have so far been a decidedly one-sided affair, with Mitt Romney and a pro-Romney super PAC saturating the airwaves for weeks with a slew of attack ads aimed chiefly at Newt Gingrich.
Many of the attacks are accurate. But the avalanche of negativity also contains a few distortions, including some that are being recycled.
One claim that is repeated in several of the ads is that Gingrich supported funding for “China’s brutal one-child policy.” The truth is that the bill in question specifically prohibited the use of funds for “involuntary sterilization or abortion,” or “the coercion of any person to accept family planning services.”
Another claim is that Gingrich “supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.” He does advocate allowing some to gain legal status — but only those who have resided in the U.S. for years, are employed, and have ties to their communities. It’s not known how many could meet the tests Gingrich proposes.
One of the newest attacks makes fun of Gingrich for his constant mentions of Ronald Reagan, noting correctly that the former president mentioned Gingrich only once in his published diaries. But the ad slightly exaggerates when it claims Reagan said Gingrich’s “ideas” — plural — would “cripple our defense.” It was only one idea — to freeze all federal spending at 1983 levels. Plus, we found that Reagan in public speeches voiced support for Gingrich’s ideas on taxes and school prayer.
But accurate or not, the pounding has been going on for weeks on Florida television, with no response from Gingrich or his allies. Romney and Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, spent $6.7 million on TV ads in Florida from Dec. 26 to Jan. 24, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a unit of Kantar Media. Restore Our Future went on the air the day after Christmas and spent $3.3 million through Jan. 24. The Romney campaign followed on Jan. 4 and spent $3.4 million, the data show. Most of Romney’s ads are positive, but one recent addition is a pure attack on Gingrich.
Gingrich won’t be so defenseless in the final days before the Jan. 31 vote, however. The pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, entered the fray Jan. 25 with a promised $6 million ad campaign. We’ll check its ads in a later article.
Meanwhile, we offer in our Analysis section a sampling of the ads that have been hammering away at Gingrich, along with our comments on what’s accurate, what’s not and what additional context voters might find useful.
Update, Jan. 27: For our coverage of the late-starting attack ads from the Gingrinch side, see “The Gingrich Counterattack in Florida“
The assault on Gingrich started early in Florida. The pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, went on TV the day after Christmas and hasn’t stopped since. Through Jan. 24, as we mentioned earlier, Romney and the super PAC supporting him outspent Gingrich $6.7 million to nothing, according to data supplied by the ad-tracking service CMAG.
It wasn’t until Jan. 25 that the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, started to run TV ads in Florida. But even if the group spends $6 million in Florida, as reported by the Washington Post, Romney and his allies will far outspend Gingrich.
Romney leaves most of the attacks on Gingrich to the super PAC supporting him. We have only one example of an anti-Gingrich ad that comes from Romney’s own campaign. That attack ad started running Jan. 24.
Misleading ‘Florida Families’
The Romney ad accuses Gingrich of contributing to the housing crisis (which has hit Florida particularly hard) and for ethics violations. We find it contains some exaggerations.
Romney for President TV Ad: “Florida Families”
Announcer: While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.
Gingrich: And I offered my advice, and my advice as a historian …
Announcer: A historian? Really? Sanctioned for ethics violations, Gingrich resigned from Congress in disgrace. And then cashed in as a DC insider. If Newt wins, this guy [Obama] would be very happy.
The ad says Gingrich “cashed in” and “was paid over $1.6 million” from Freddie Mac, “while Florida families lost everything” in a housing crisis Freddie Mac “helped create.” It’s an exaggeration to link Gingrich’s consulting contract to the suffering of Floridians, and to say he personally was paid $1.6 million.
That $1.6 million figure — which is also repeated in many of the anti-Gingrich attack ads from Restore Our Future — refers to money paid to the former speaker’s consulting firm. As we have reported before, the firm had many employees and expenses.
Gingrich this week released a $25,000 per month contract with Freddie Mac, which states that the firm was hired to perform “consulting and related services as requested” by Freddie Mac’s director of public policy, a registered lobbyist for the government-sponsored mortgage entity. The $1.6 million figure — reported by Bloomberg — was not disputed when Romney cited it during the Florida GOP debate on Jan. 23. But Gingrich said, “My share annually was about $35,000 a year.” If that’s true, he personally received somewhere around $280,000 over an eight-year period.
It’s also debatable how much Freddie Mac and the other government-sponsored mortgage agency, Fannie Mae, “helped create” the housing bubble. As we said a few times in 2008, there is a lot of blame to go around — including but not limited to the Federal Reserve, investment banks, mortgage lenders, homeowners, regulators, and both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Plus, there’s no evidence that whatever Gingrich did for Freddie (and we still don’t know) had even a tenuous link to the suffering of Florida homeowners.
The ad also strains the facts when it links Gingrich’s decision to leave Congress to his ethics. It says, “Sanctioned for ethics violations, Gingrich resigned from Congress in disgrace.” But Gingrich announced his resignation nearly two years after the ethics case was resolved, prompted by a miserable election result. As we wrote twice earlier this month, Gingrich stepped down as House speaker in November 1998 after the Republicans suffered historic losses in the 1998 election. He then left Congress altogether in January 1999. The House voted to reprimand Gingrich in January 1997.
Amnesty, Ethics and Obama’s ‘Plan’
Restore Our Future, meanwhile, is spending more than $1 million each on two ads that are in heavy rotation in Florida. In one of them, “Smiling,” the pro-Romney super PAC focuses on electability — telling viewers that Obama would prefer to run against Gingrich. That may be so, but the ad misrepresents Gingrich’s immigration position, his ethics case and even a news article.
Restore Our Future TV Ad: “Smiling”
Announcer: Barack Obama’s plan is working. Destroy Mitt Romney. Run against Newt Gingrich. Newt has a ton of baggage. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Newt supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, and teamed with Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore on global warming. Maybe that’s why George Will calls him the least conservative candidate. Check the facts at NewtFacts.com.
The ad starts off by saying, “Barack Obama’s plan is working. Destroy Mitt Romney. Run against Newt Gingrich.” To support that claim, the ad cites an Aug. 9, 2011, story by Politico that carries the headline: “Obama Plan: Destroy Romney.” But the story does not mention Gingrich at all, or any of the “baggage” that the ad claims will hurt the former speaker in a general election. Politico’s story was about the Obama campaign’s strategy for running against Romney in the general election, not about any plan to torpedo him in the primaries.
The ad also claims that Gingrich “supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.” That’s not true for most illegal immigrants; Gingrich supports something resembling amnesty for only a relatively small portion of those who are in the U.S. illegally.
As Gingrich has said in campaign appearances and debates, he believes that illegal immigrants who have lived a long time in the United States, are employed, and have ties to their community should not be deported. He would give them legal permission to remain, but not allow them to become citizens.
The ad contains the now familiar claim that Gingrich was “fined” $300,000 for ethics violations. As we have written, it was technically not a fine. The House ethics report on the case said the $300,000 was a reimbursement to defray some of the cost of the investigation.
Gingrich ‘Is No Ronald Reagan’
Another ad from Restore Our Future was released the morning of Jan. 25, and is titled “Reagan.” It says Gingrich exaggerates his connection to the former president, dropping his name 50 times in debates while Reagan mentioned Gingrich only once in his diaries, saying his “ideas” would “cripple our defense.”
Restore Our Future TV Ad: “Reagan”
Narrator: From debates, you’d think Newt Gingrich was Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
Gingrich: I worked with President Ronald Reagan … worked with Ronald Reagan …. Ronald Reagan playbook … President Reagan … Reagan … Reagan … Reagan
Narrator: Gingrich exaggerates, dropping Ronald Reagan’s name 50 times. But in his diaries, Reagan mentioned Gingrich only once. Reagan criticized Gingrich, saying Newt’s ideas, quote, “would cripple our defense program.” Reagan rejected Newt’s ideas. On leadership and character, Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan.[/TET]
This ad exaggerates only slightly. Gingrich indeed mentions Reagan’s name constantly and boasts of “helping” him create jobs and lower taxes, among other things. He mentioned Reagan seven times in the most recent debate on Jan. 23, for example, and a total of 10 more times in the two previous debates on Jan. 19 and Jan. 16. There have been 17 GOP debates so far.
And it’s true that Reagan mentioned Gingrich — at the time a junior House member from Georgia — only once in his published diaries. As we reported earlier when Romney brought this up during a debate, Reagan wrote that the young congressman’s 1983 suggestion to freeze spending “would cripple our defense program,” and he rejected it.
But this ad goes a bit too far when it says Reagan rejected “Newt’s ideas,” in the plural. Reagan mentioned rejecting only one — the spending freeze.
We also did a text search of Reagan’s public statements, speeches and papers on the Reagan presidential library website and found only seven mentions of Gingrich – most of them pro-forma at times when Reagan visited Georgia. That’s less than one mention a year during Reagan’s two terms. However, Reagan twice singled out Gingrich for praise on policy issues — specifically taxes and school prayer. In a March 2, 1984, speech to conservatives at the annual CPAC convention, Reagan noted that he was “gratified” that Gingrich was going to organize a rally on the Capitol steps in support of the prayer in school amendment.
Gingrich ‘Has Tons Of Baggage’
Yet another Restore Our Future ad, titled “Risk,” started running in Florida the afternoon of Jan. 24. It asks, “Can we risk four more years of Barack Obama,” and suggests that Gingrich would lose the general election because he “has tons of baggage.”
Restore Our Future TV Ad: “Risk”
Narrator: Can we risk four more years of Barack Obama? Newt Gingrich’s tough talk sounds good, but Newt has tons of baggage. How will he ever beat Obama? While Newt was speaker, earmarks exploded. He co-sponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi that would have given $60 million a year to a U.N. program supporting China’s brutal one-child policy. And he teamed up with Pelosi on global warming. Beating Obama is important. Too important to risk on Newt Gingrich.
This spot repeats an unfair and misleading claim that Gingrich backed funding for a U.S. program “supporting China’s brutal one-child policy.” As we reported when Restore Our Future first used this claim against Gingrich in Iowa, it’s a distortion. The truth is that the bill specifically prohibited the use of funds for “involuntary sterilization or abortion,” or “the coercion of any person to accept family planning services.” The funding in question was a small part of a much larger bill, which died before ever coming up for a vote. For more details, see our Dec. 23 article, “Attacks Against Gingrich: How Accurate?”
The ad’s claim that appropriations earmarks “exploded” under Gingrich is an opinion. However, the ad displays text on the screen that is inaccurate. It says, “While Newt was speaker, earmarks nearly doubled to $14.5 billion.” That’s not true. The ad cites a Dec. 15 story by ABC News, but the news article’s figures are wrong.
As we explained in an item titled “McCain’s Erroneous Earmark Attack,” ABC News used the wrong fiscal years to calculate the increase in spending on earmarks during Gingrich’s four years as speaker. Earmarks did peak at $14.5 billion in fiscal year 1997, but it was an increase of 45 percent — not nearly double — compared with spending on earmarks the year before Gingrich became speaker. Also, the ad ignores that spending on earmarks went down in Gingrich’s final two years, so the last budget passed when Gingrich was speaker represented a modest 20 percent increase in earmarks over four years.
The ad is also true — as far as it goes — when it says Gingrich “teamed up with [Nancy] Pelosi on global warming.” Gingrich did indeed appear in a TV commercial with Pelosi back in 2008 and urged unspecified federal action to address climate change. But he later opposed Pelosi’s cap-and-trade bill. For full details on Gingrich’s shifting stance on climate change and cap-and-trade legislation, see our Dec. 15 item, “Gingrich On Climate Change.”
‘Desperate’ For Facts
A Restore Our Future ad called “Desperate” picks up on the same Gingrich-has-more-baggage-than-the-airlines theme that worked so well in Iowa in mid-December. And it makes some of the same dubious claims that we checked then.
Restore Our Future TV ad: “Desperate”
Announcer: Newt Gingrich’s attacks are called foolish, out of bounds and disgusting. Newt attacks because he has more baggage than the airlines. Newt was fined $300,000 for ethics violations, took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, and co-sponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi that would have given $60 million a year to a U.N. program supporting China’s brutal one-child policy. Don’t be fooled by Newt’s desperate attacks.
The ad repeats some of the claims of other ads we discussed above, including claims about being “fined” $300,000 for ethics violations and “supporting China’s brutal one-child policy.”
On Admitting Mistakes
Another Restore Our Future 30-second ad landed some punches against Gingrich for admitting mistakes or flipping on issues.
Restore Our Future TV Ad: “Whoops”
Announcer: Ever notice how some people make a lot of mistakes?
Gingrich: It was probably a mistake. … I made a mistake. … I’ve made mistakes at times. …
Announcer: So far, Newt Gingrich has admitted his mistakes or flipped on teaming up with Nancy Pelosi, immigration, Medicare, health care, Iraq, attacking Mitt Romney and more.
Gingrich: I made a big mistake in the spring.
Announcer: Haven’t we had enough mistakes?
“So far, Newt Gingrich has admitted his mistakes or flipped on teaming up with Nancy Pelosi, immigration, Medicare, health care, Iraq, attacking Mitt Romney and more,” the ad says while showing clips of Gingrich admitting mistakes.
We’ve previously reported that Gingrich made a partial flip on his illegal immigration stance; he said in 2005 he would require “all” illegal immigrants to return to their countries. And we’ve written that Gingrich regretted making an ad with Pelosi about climate change but ultimately opposed her cap-and-trade bill.
Regarding Medicare, Gingrich did indeed backtrack and apologize to Rep. Paul Ryan after criticizing the congressman’s plan to revamp the program. As for flipping on his attacks against Romney, Gingrich’s campaign recently said it would pull or edit a Spanish-language radio ad running in Florida that claims Romney is “anti-immigrant.”
Regarding health care, the former speaker flipped on “Romneycare,” according to a Wall Street Journal article. Gingrich has been denouncing the Massachusetts health care law on the campaign trail but voiced enthusiasm for the state legislation when it was passed six years ago.
As for flipping on Iraq, Gingrich wrote a USA Today column in 2002 urging an invasion of Iraq. Under the headline “Strike Sooner Than Later,” he wrote: “I believe [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld’s guidelines make an overwhelming case for replacing Saddam as soon as possible.” But after things went badly, Gingrich said in 2006: “It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003. …We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it.”
– by Robert Farley, Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson and Ben Finley
Correction, Feb.1: We originally reported that a claim that earmarks “exploded” under Gingrich was “accurate” because it correctly cited an ABC News story. We later discovered that the ABC story was in error, and revised that paragraph to give the correct figures.
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