Florida Excerpt from Chasing Romney
The Florida crowd roared like every other primary crowd, in the same predictable rhythm. I looked around me: the old folks of Florida confused me as I knew there were few people in the crowd who were die-hard Romney-maniacs, but they still cheered for their team as fervently as a high school freshman at a pep rally. I figured that these old folks must have seen a thousand politicians selling the same oregano as pot every time, yet still, whether out of habit or true passion, they came out for a heaping portion of freedom fries and oregano pot delivered by a glorified carnival barker. They cheered and neighed like a horse at stampede, herded into chants of this or that for Romney or against the Occupiers who inhabited a few isolated portions of the crowd.
I suppose this craziness from the crowd shouldn’t be all that surprising to a regular hand: it’s only the most fervent supporters who come out for this stuff during the primaries, but it was still unnerving. Politics has become, in this insane world of sound bites that completely belie the meaning of the words said and intended, a strange game for actors to play extremist elements against each other and ignore the middle.
Romney came out to the same disturbing applause I’ve heard so many times. He smiled his same smile, walked his same walk, rehearsed as a man could possibly be; the Broadway actor who fakes his death or kisses the same girl for the first time every night. He quoted America the Beautiful yet again, with the more seasoned members of the audience knowing exactly when he’d start spouting it (his favorite part seemingly being “oh beautiful for hero’s prov’d/In liberating strife/Who more than self their country lov’d/ And mercy more than life). He then broke with his tradition of slamming Obama, comparing the U.S. to Greece, crapping on Solyndra then reciting America the Beautiful to take a shot at Newt. Rinse, lather, repeat, Newt.
“Newt Gingrich doesn’t have executive experience,” Romney said, elaborating how Newt had never run anything in the public or private sector. He then bared his teeth, digging into the soft spots on Newt’s flabby political body that bulges with vulnerability. Romney recounted the time Gingrich’s own party turned on him, eighty percent of them joining the 395 to 28 vote to make Gingrich the first speaker of the house to ever actually be disciplined for an ethics violation. He was penalized $300,000 in the midst of his ethics scandal. The Mormonator followed up by working the body, saying Gingrich was chased out of office as a failure. He pointed out that Gingrich had been an unregistered lobbyist, and that “historians,” as Gingrich claimed was his position with Fannie Mae, don’t get paid millions of dollars. Romney finished it up with a respectable shot, saying that, since he’s releasing his tax record, Gingrich should release his record with Fannie Mae.
It’s funny: everyone thought it was going to get ugly in South Carolina, but it didn’t really hit the fan until after. It tickles me that these two giants of American politics, both opportunistic and willing to bend their values and logic into Cirque Du Soliel-esque contortions, are pitted directly against each other. This is going to get almost as interesting as it will be ugly, the boxer’s equivalent of launching teeth into the third row.
I’ve got to give Gingrich this much: while Romney has followed his advisors and turned a cold, malignant heart to DREAMers, Gingrich at least says there’s some wiggle room, and that people who have been in the country contributing to their communities for years should not be separated from their families and dragged across the border. I’m still not sure whether Gingrich has a legitimate chance considering he isn’t even on the ballet in two states and cannot be added. This won’t, however, stop him from putting his name out there like a more politically adept, attention-whoring Donald Trump.
Romney then began the handshake round; I quickly made my way through the old folks towards the front row. This time, when I grabbed his hand I held on, telling him “I’m a conservative voter in favor of the DREAM Act.” He completely ignored me: he was more guarded, perhaps because our video of him with Lucy had already received 23,000 hits on YouTube alone.
A DREAMer family of mixed status, one brother who had gained his documents, another brother who had rotted for a month in the deplorable conditions of an immigration detention center, maneuvered through the dense Florida crowd with me. They had come to help us push the DREAM Act, and to remind Romney that, according to the Pew research center, the DREAM Act has a ninety percent approval rating amongst Latinos. This isn’t particularly surprising; even the rich Republican Latinos still have friends in mixed status families, still play soccer with a guy who is stuck in a tricky immigration situation with little to no hope of staying in the country legally. Romney blew them off, even as signs for immigration were being all but mashed into his face by DREAM Act protestors alongside the hand he was shaking.
Romney retreated back into the bus at the end of the session. It’s obvious that the more DREAMers confront Romney about the issue, an issue which is incredibly unifying in the Latino community, the more they will be able to alienate him from their community.
Romney’s best chance to minimize his delegate hemorrhaging is to stay the hell away from the issue of immigration, distancing himself from his father’s immigration from Mexico, and hoping that he can stay to the red meat of the right wing with tax cuts, corporate experience and deregulation. This is poison for a national election when he needs to sell himself to moderate Republicans and liberal-leaning Independents; if you look closely, you can see his long-term political career draining out of his body with every right wing promise. If Gingrich pushes their difference on immigration, it will help him surge in any state where there are a lot of Latino voters, and it really couldn’t hurt him much in the general election.
I’ve realized during this Florida trip, however, that life on the road isn’t particularly glamorous. I’m sitting in a chair that looks like it’s been pissed in both many times and recently, in a hotel that is sketchy by even my measure (and I’ve been in a relatively affordable hotel on the edge of the Ecuadorian Amazon, before going into the jungle for a few weeks to sleep on the floor of the semi-nomadic hunter gatherers). Caesar yells out that we need a title for an article he’s writing. I’ve become a somewhat happy journalist by accident, but my tired brain struggles and sputters like an engine that’s been burnt out and dipped in lard.
Caesar sits in a bed that bends at the middle like a taco shell, trying to ignore another roach on the ceiling that would unhinge Erika. We all sleep on top of the blanket for fear of bedbugs.
“Gingrich was down by thirty points less than a week ago, now he’s at thirty-four percent leading Romney by eight points. Gingrich is leading the GOP primaries.” Caesar said this with a bit of mild surprise in our dirty hotel as a Dateline van pulls into the lot. The entire Republican Primary has been a spectacle of epic proportions, a side show where every freak has come out for their five minutes of fame, until people realized that they were too crazy (Michelle Bachman), inarticulate (Rick Perry), or glaringly unqualified in a scary way (Herman Cain, Donald Trump) to take the office.
I thought to myself who the hell would ever imagine this sentence, “Gingrich is leading the GOP primaries,” would actually be uttered? If the guy were every going to be President, it would have been when I was in high school, about twelve years ago. Gingrich has been kicking ass amongst right-wingers since he ripped a moderator apart at the beginning of a debate, and if the far right wing base appreciates anything, it’s a bully that pushes for what they want with a scorched earth political policy.
I wonder to myself, does Gingrich actually have a chance? I’m quickly reminded of how many times I thought that about the current frontrunner. If Gingrich picks up steam, he could continue forward with the momentum he started up in South Carolina, tearing chunks out of Mitt Romney along the way. He’s disguising the fact that he’s tearing apart the most legit chance at a Republican victory by claiming that it will make him a stronger, more vetted candidate. The problem is, he’s writing attack ads for Obama, and everyone who’s an intelligent left-leaning Independent or a Democrat is doing a celebration dance in the locker room before even having to suit up.
The Republican field has been absolutely ravaged by extremism for the past eight years or so, riding a wave of sentiment that the only thing wrong with the country is that Obama is a socialist and he’s holding back the awesome power of the economy that would run rampant if only we would deregulate and lower taxes. I’m not sure how they’ve been able to maintain this delusion in the wake of a financial crisis that occurred because the big firms hire the smartest guys, perhaps a former agency head who’s much more interested now that his salary quadrupled, to run circles around clueless, underfunded regulators and make billions in the process at taxpayer expense. Their most ardent followers, i.e. Teabaggers, really seem unable to connect the dots, and they’re dragging us all down with them.
The height of our trip to Florida was Jorge Ramos sneaking DRM into the media room at his interview with Romney. Caesar and I walked up into the media room, and saw a dozen people with cameras and laptops. Since it was our first meal of the day, Caesar and I weren’t shy about helping ourselves to the burritos they had laid out.
Univision’s Jorge Ramos pushed the issue of immigration on Romney straight from the opening bell. He quoted Gingrich that Romney has “no humanity for the people who are here.” and that his self-deportation plan was an “Obama-level fantasy.” Romney shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
Ramos continued with a straightforward questioning that hit the heart of the matter. “How are you going to convince millions of undocumented immigrants to go back to poverty and violence?” Romney was slightly taken aback, “Well, let’s go back piece by piece, Jorge.” He then said it was a sad day when candidates had to resort to name calling and said that he was pro-immigrant, largely because they form more businesses than domestic-born Americans. He failed to take into account the many jobs started by undocumented immigrants, such as mine. Ramos pushed harder, reminding Romney that twelve thousand people were killed in Mexico, and forty million live in poverty.
Romney countered that Gingrich also supports self-deportation. He followed up with plans to make undocumented immigrants’ lives more difficult through denying drivers licenses, instituting E-Verify and severely sanctioning employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
Although Romney is like the boss who just fired everyone’s father, he doesn’t seem to understand why the fruit is rotting on the vine in Alabama: it’s become completely dependent upon undocumented immigrants who are willing to break their backs so that their children can get an education away from the gunshots of Juarez while U.S. citizens get a cheaper salad. When Alabama passed HB56, it effectively chased away undocumented immigrants, taking the labor force out of the state and tanking local economies state-wide. According to the Mayor in Thomasville, Alabama, the law has scared off major foreign investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of jobs in his town alone.
When Ramos moved the conversation on to Lucy, Romney’s understanding of the needs of the young Latino community (which are similar to the late teen and twenty-something demographic in education) completely broke down, exposing him as a bit of a Richie Rich candidate. Ramos asked why Romney would punish Lucy, who was brought into the U.S. at the age of ten, by blocking her from attending college, here’s what he had to say:
MR: Well, actually, I’m not punishing her. I don’t think that she should get –
JR: Oh, you would, because she wouldn’t go to college. No?
MR: — well, she can go to college. There’s no requirement that she goes to a college that provides an in-state tuition break. There are many colleges in the United States, and there are some that are relatively inexpensive. And one can go to a college that is not as expensive as others, and shop to those that have a better deal. I’m not sure what the price is here at Miami Dade, but my guess is it’s not terribly exorbitant. And so, people can choose a college. And so, the idea that we have to provide an in-state tuition break to people to be able to allow them to come to college, I just — I reject that idea.
Looking around the room when Romney said this, I saw several dozen students shaking their heads as though saying “this guy just doesn’t understand.” It’s honestly not surprising; who would expect a man who has been paying fifteen percent taxes on his $150-$200 million for years to know what ramen noodles taste like in a shamelessly cheap dorm room some students can only afford because of government assistance? Student debt has outpaced consumer, but that won’t be an issue if you’re a Romney.
Romney continued into a nigh-schizophrenic dialogue that he cared very deeply about families that came here illegally, the children in particular and especially the ones with violent coyotes who are abused by the various systems they are trapped in. He then said “legal” and “legally” about ten times in one minute, relying on the current status of undocumented immigrants to explain why that status shouldn’t be changed because it’s unfair to legal immigration. Somewhere out there, Don, the man whom I had a small debate with in New Hampshire, popped some wood.
All in all, it was what can be expected from a boring guy running for president when he needs to be guarded in hostile territory. It wasn’t particularly impressive, and his comments on education were definitely a gaff if they make it into the right media outlets. When he came out later to his car, we ambushed him like usual. This time he had his two bodyguards, Bieber Hair (self explanatory) and the Grey Menace (a large man with grey hair that pushed me away from Romney in NYC), flanking him. He ran the gauntlet quickly as we chanted.
For more of a preview, or to purchase the book, please visit http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240372