The moment in Saturday’s GOP presidential debate that got the most attention, after the fact, was when Mitt Romney offered to bet Rick Perry $10,000 that he hadn’t edited the paperback edition of his book in the way that Perry claimed. Romney is right about this, but critics argued that the offer was a blunder because it will remind voters that Romney is rich. Steve was mildly inclined to agree with this critique, but I don’t buy it, for several reasons: 1) No one will remember the exchange by Wednesday. 2) Gambling is so widespread in our society that offering to bet is anything but scandalous, and $10,000 is hardly a princely sum among gamblers. 3) Everyone already knows Romney is rich, and probably assumes the other candidates are too.
Gingrich’s error was much more telling, in my view. This morning, reporters asked Newt whether he will return some or all of the $1.6 million he got from Freddy Mac. Gingrich lost his temper and went into meltdown mode, replying:
I would just say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all of the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to listen to him. I’ll bet you $10, not $10,000, that he won’t take the offer.
That was clever, in a short-term, scorched-earth sort of way, but it didn’t make any sense: who ever got rich by “bankrupting companies”? This is one of the weirdly ignorant tropes of our time–the idea that when a company goes broke, it represents a shrewd ploy to enrich the company’s management. Not only that, Gingrich’s rant played directly into the hands of the Democrats, who, being the Stupid Party, live off this kind of ignorance. By this evening, Gingrich had repented. He vowed to run, from here on, a positive campaign, with a view toward ousting the deeply unpopular Barack Obama.
That is a pledge that Gingrich and the other Republican candidates should have taken long ago, in accordance with Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment. Sadly, the GOP presidential candidates have given the Democrats way too much free ammunition, while failing to mount the sustained critique of the Obama administration that should have been the focus of the primary season.