I saw Speaker Newt Gingrich six or seven weeks ago in New Hampshire, and I saw him again Sunday morning, January 1st in Des Moines. Back then, he looked fresh and combative, this Sunday he looked tired, almost exhausted. Maybe it is the roller coaster that took him up to be a top tier candidate and then down again, to be a struggling candidate. Or maybe it is just waking up the morning after New Year’s without having enough time to drink proper coffee and shape up for yet another day of vigorous campaigning. Whatever the reason, he was offered a coffee and bagel with cream cheese and lox, courtesy of rabbi Yossi Jacobson and his Maccabee’s Deli, “the only Kosher deli” in town. And he spent an hour or so with the Jewish community of Des Moines – that is, with the Jews wanting to hear him in this relatively intimate setting. A couple of tables, a couple of chairs, cheese cake ($3.5), Bagel and lox ($5), coffee ($2), rabbis (Reform and Orthodox healthily mixing) – and one columnist.
Gingrich already said that he would not vote for Ron Paul if the Texan happens to win the nomination – in the short conversation we had following the event he told me he doesn’t believe such a thing could happen. But he finds it necessary to go back to this topic in the meeting with the Jewish Iowans. It is crucial he says that “we” (by “we” he might have meant the US, or the GOP) will not have “leaders who believe that Iran is not important”.
Gingrich seemed to remind his listeners that voting on Tuesday is the only way to stop Paul’s recent surge, an idea that finds some receptive audiences among Des Moines Jews. I was spending Friday evening at the B’nai Jeshurun Temple where I heard from a couple of people, among them registered Democrats, that they intend to vote “against Paul” in the caucuses (they will have to switch to do that). I asked Gingrich later if he was not concerned by the fact that so many GOP voters find Paul an acceptable candidate, if this doesn’t weaken the Republican position on all foreign matters, Israel included. His answer was sharp: “As Republicans learn more about Paul’s positions he would drop” – namely, his numbers would drop. Gingrich believes that “overwhelmingly, Republican voters are concerned about Iran” and would not buy Paul’s apologetic tone regarding this crucial matter (for more on this, read all about Jewish voters and the Ron Paul effect).
Gingrich himself was asked the predictable question about the necessity of an attack on Iran and gave the rehearsed answer: “I would not tolerate a nuclear Iran”. A preemptive strike should be a last resort measure. “If we got to a point of no alternative, I’d prefer a [military] strike to a nuclear Iran”. The “long term” solution, though, is “regime change”. His solution for the Palestinians’ continued “war” – Gingrich doesn’t see how “eleven missiles fired at Israel in one month” (November) can be considered otherwise – doesn’t go this far and is more tactical. He doesn’t seem to regret the “invented people” episode, and goes into a long explanation of the complexity of the situation. For any peace to be achieved Palestinians would have to be convinced first that Israel is not going anywhere, ever.
His remedy is simple: cut “all funding” for the Palestinians. He’d cut it without much hesitation. “The North defeated the South” only after understanding that there’s a need for “total war” – and that is the way to go with the Palestinians today, so Gingrich believes. He is “worried a lot less” about the Saudi aircraft deal, he told us. The Saudis “are terrified by Iran” and he “suspects that the Israelis privately approved the deal”.
He was asked a couple of questions on the relations of church and state by concerned members of the community who do not appreciate the intensity with which GOP candidates use Christian rhetoric for political purposes. On Monday evening some of these Jews – and probably others – will attend a “pre caucus event” on “freedom from religion in politics” that is sponsored by “Skeptics of Central Iowa”. Leaflets for this event were distributed among the attendees of the Gingrich talk, but the candidate himself would not budge much on this issue. Not now, a mere two days before religious Iowa is going to the polls. What “Jefferson said is that there should not be an official church”, not that religion should not play any role in America’s political life. Such a ban would be “bad for our culture”, he said. Then he posed for a photo with three rabbis: David Kaufman, Reform, Leib Bolel, Orthodox and Yossi Jacobson, Chabad (you can see this photo on the Rosner’s Domain Facebook page – and don’t forget to click the Like button).