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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Gingrich Makes a French Connection

Newt Gingrich attacks Mitt Romney once again, this time in a Web video that bashes Romney for raising taxes, giving money to Democrats (back in 1992) and — sacre bleu! — speaking French. But a few of the claims, besides the French one, could use some context.

The one-minute video says that Romney “donated to Democrats.” That’s true, but voters might want to know that he gave a total of $1,500 to three congressional candidates 20 years ago, in 1992. Since 1990, Romney has given $138,680 to Republican candidates and Republican organizations. That’s according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics (search for both “Mitt Romney” and “Willard Romney”). Gingrich hasn’t given any money to Democrats; he has given $20,885 to Republicans, including a $2,500 donation to himself.

The ad says Romney “opposed the Contract with America,” a House GOP document in 1994 outlining what Republicans would do if they won a majority in the House, which is what happened in that year’s election. Technically, Romney declined to support it, which is not exactly the same as opposing it. (And yes, we realize this is a quibble.) At the time, Romney was running against Sen. Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe also pointed out that while his aides said he didn’t plan to support it, several of the proposals in the contract were part of Romney’s campaign pitch. An old video shows Romney saying that contracts like this were not “a good idea” and that politicians should “work together” rather than “picking teams” where one side feels like a winner and the other, a loser.

Continuing a pattern for Gingrich ads, this one also goes after Romney on abortion, repeating a misleading claim that Romney’s health care law called for “taxpayer-funded abortions.” As we’ve said a few times now, the law didn’t say anything about abortions. Instead, the state exchange later determined that subsidized health plans would cover abortions, following a state Supreme Court decision that the state must cover medically necessary abortions if it’s covering other necessary care for pregnant women.

Gingrich’s anti-French ad is close to the mark when it says Romney “raised taxes.” It’s true that he raised many “fees,” which some may view as taxes, while governor of Massachusetts as part of his effort to close a $1.2 billion budget gap. And he cut local aid, shifting a higher tax burden to localities, and closed loopholes, raising more tax revenue from corporations. The ad also correctly says Romney voted for a Democrat in the 1992 presidential primary. He has said that he voted for Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primary, rather than vote for President George H.W. Bush in the Republican primary, because Bush was assured the nomination. Romney, who was then a registered independent, told ABC News in 2007: “When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I’d vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican.” But he also had told the Boston Globe in 1994 that he chose to vote in the Democratic primary because Tsongas was from Massachusetts and he liked his ideas better than Bill Clinton’s — and also, because Bush was going to win the GOP nomination.

The ad attributes the quote that “Romney will say anything” to the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire. That was the headline on a short column by the publisher of the paper, and that was the gist of his remarks.

As for his French-speaking skills, Romney honed those as a Mormon missionary in France for a few years in the 1960s. Gingrich’s ad highlights a clip of Romney greeting French volunteers to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. We’ll have to leave it to voters to decide whether being able to chat in français is a good thing or a bad thing. Gingrich (as well as Romney) has no problem reaching out to U.S. voters in Spanish.

— Lori Robertson