Newt Gingrich is making his closing arguments to voters in the Mississippi River towns of Muscatine and Burlington in advance of Tuesday's Republican Party caucuses, and that argument boils down to this: Gingrich is better, smarter and more experienced than the rest.
"I should win the Iowa caucuses because I am the only candidate who could successfully debate [President] Obama in the fall, and I am the only candidate who has an actual track record — twice — with Reagan and as speaker, of actually changing Washington," Gingrich told voters Monday in Independence, Iowa. "Everybody else would be an amateur in the Obama tradition and would not know what they were doing or how to do it if they won."
Gingrich evokes the good old days of the 1980s and '90s often, talking up his relationship with President Reagan and taking credit for helping Reagan lower taxes and kick-start the economy. He also waxes eloquent about his record of balancing budgets and boosting the economy as House speaker in the mid- to late-1990s, after engineering the GOP takeover of the U.S. House in 1994.
He also talks about bipartisanship as though compromise is not a crime, blasting mostly President Obama, but knocking congressional Republicans a bit, too.
"The idea that the Congress and the president would come together to pass a two-month extension of a tax cut, two months, and then go home because they accomplished something, I mean this is cloud cuckoo land," Gingrich said to laughter and applause in Muscatine on Tuesday morning. "I mean, these people are literally out of touch with reality."
Gingrich has taken many shots at the president and his aides in recent days, and to a lesser degree at his fellow Republicans in Congress, for playing "childish games," and calling their act "a kindergarten play."
He promises, if elected, to bring the two parties together. "You govern America by reaching out to Americans," he told the coffee shop crowd this morning in Muscatine.
He took other shots at the president, too, in backhanded ways. When talking about how Reagan, with Gingrich's help, "turned the country around after Jimmy Carter," he added, "Carter was a smaller version of Obama. He was Obama's incompetence without his radicalism."
In the last couple of days, Gingrich has posed for pictures with everyone who asks. He's gamely appeared with all kinds of props, including a road grader and backhoes outside of Cedar Rapids; in front of "Big Bud," which is said to be the biggest tractor in the world, in Independence, Iowa; and, my personal favorite, in the Blackhawk Bowl and Martini Lounge in Davenport last night.
In calling it maybe the most amazing place he's been in Iowa, Gingrich said, "I'm not speaking ill of any other place I've been, but there's just something about the concept of bowling alley and martini bar that captures a flavor of the evening."
While Gingrich can come off as a bit arrogant to some, he is reaching some voters. "Newt really kind of spun me around today," said retiree Gary Diercks of Muscatine. "His presentation was great. I basically had my mind made up for Santorum, but now I'm torn between Santorum and Gingrich."
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