The Siege of Newt
9:05 PM, Jan 8, 2012 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
It started innocently enough. About 50 chairs were set up in a side room of the small restaurant. They quickly filled with voters. The media packed in behind them. By the time Gingrich arrived, that room and the main room were jammed full of bodies and people were spilling out the door.
Gingrich’s campaign made a good faith effort at reaching out to their target demographic. A sign behind the podium reads, “Newt con nosotros—2012.” Gingrich’s daughter gave some brief remarks in Spanish. She was followed by state representative Carlos Gonzalez—New Hampshire’s first Hispanic elected official—who also spoke in Spanish for a bit before switching over to English. Finally, Gingrich took the stage. He spoke English only and, interestingly, didn’t even mention Hispanics as a group, or immigration, until nearly two-thirds of the way through his remarks. Instead, he focused largely on local issues, including the costs of fuel oil and New Hampshire’s dismal VA system, and the economy. That’s when the drumming began.
Outside Don Quijote’s, a group of Occupy Wall Streeters had massed. After milling about for some time, they decided to protest more actively. So they came up to the restaurant and banged on their drums and tapped on the windows. Gingrich gamely soldiered on, segueing into Lean Six Sigma and job creation. Then Vermin Supreme started in.
Vermin Supreme is one of the nutters who perpetually haunts the New Hampshire primaries. If you spend 48 hours in the Granite State during primary season, you’re bound to see him at least thrice. He considers himself a performance artist; he would not be totally out of place at Mos Eisley. Or in Jabba’s palace.
Normally, Vermin Supreme is content hanging around outside campaign events chit-chatting and being wacky. But on Sunday, he brought his megaphone. And as Gingrich spoke and the Occupiers drummed, Vermin Supreme placed his bullhorn up against the window glass and began saying:
Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt. Surrender. We have you surrounded. Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt. Come out with your hands up and your pants down. Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt.
Even inside the building, standing about 35 feet from Gingrich, his badgering was loud. You might be surprised at how long a man could carry on like that—repeating the same stanza, over and over and over again, in the same monotonously addled cadence. I would have thought that even a fellow like Vermin Supreme might get tired of it after ten or fifteen minutes. Turns out, I was wrong.
The pushing started, then. The Occupiers were massing another force near the front door when others began pulling at one of the side doors, trying to get in. What with struggling to breach the keep, the drumming, and the incantations, the entire thing reminded me of the siege of Helm’s Deep. Only with smellier orcs.
Throughout it all, Gingrich persevered manly, finishing his 25 minutes of remarks and then throwing the floor open to questions. And that’s when things got really bad.
It turns out the Occupiers weren’t just fighting to get inside Don Quijote’s—they had already infiltrated the event, too. And as Gingrich tried answering questions about the corporate tax rate and campaign finance reform, they began calling out and interrupting him. They weren’t trying to shout him down, mind you—they wanted to engage him in argument. He gave them a turn, and then answered fairly well. But they kept interjecting, wanting to prove what a soulless, corporate shill the former speaker is.
Fortunately, a few of the Hispanics—remember, that’s who the rally was for in the first place—asked questions, too. They did not seem well disposed toward Gingrich. One of them, a sullen college student from American University, demanded to know, “What is your campaign doing specifically to engage Latino voters?” (The inherent irony of his question was lost on him.) After two Latinos asked questions back-to-back, a large black man with his hand raised bellowed, “Can a minority person ask a question?” Gingrich graciously gave him a turn. He used it to complain about Newt’s racism and compare him to Hitler.
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