It's not just what Newt Gingrich said, but how he said it -- a trap so many men before him have fallen into, but they are usually lucky enough to say it the privacy of their own homes, instead of national TV. Gingrich -- on his third marriage to a pretty young, very blonde wife, and with a 38 percent disapproval rating among women -- couldn't help but let Michele Bachmann know that he thinks she's dumb during Thursday's Fox News debate. The exchange calls to mind the moment 11 years ago, when Rick Lazio walked over to Hillary Clinton's debate stand and seemed bullying and disrespectful. Which is ironic, because Gingrich himself mentioned Lazio last night.
Gingrich and Bachmann were fighting over his consulting for Freddie Mac and his, in Bachmann's view, insufficient commitment to the pro-life cause. His facial expressions were captured by Fox News' split screen, and they were not flattering: smirking, a theatrical glance around the room in disbelief. "Sometimes Congressman Bachmann doesn't get her facts very accurate. I had an 98.5 percent right to life voting record in 20 years," Gingrich said. That's obnoxious enough, but look at the way he said it:
But the thing is, at the end of the exchange, he conceded Bachmann was right! Bachmann charged, "Speaker Gingrich said that he would actively support and campaign for Republicans who got behind the barbaric practice of partial birth abortions. This is not a small issue. This is a big issue." Gingrich explained, "Well, first of all, what I said on that particular issue is I wouldn't go out and try to purge Republicans. Now, I don't see how you are going to govern the country if you are going to run around and decide who you are going to purge."
Lazio, at least, was smart enough to keep his eyebrows somewhat in check:
(Photo via Associated Press.)
When he accused her of knowing nothing, Bachmann's words were, "I think it's outrageous to continue to say over and over through the debate that I don't have my facts right. When as a matter of fact, I do. I'm a serious candidate for president of the United States. And my facts are accurate." But her face said, Can you believe this guy?
Several reporters noted Gingrich's tone, especially female ones. "The highlighting of Gingrich's condescending manner, particularly with regard to the only woman candidate, was another bad moment for him," The Atlantic's Molly Ball writes. "While [Ron] Paul and Gingrich faltered, Bachmann shined," The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin writes. "When Gingrich once again in these debates accused her of not knowing her facts she showed a little righteous indignation, saying she sure did and was a 'serious candidate.' Gingrich has a gender gap problem for a reason; He comes across to women as arrogant and condescending." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, with an approving Mika Brzezinski at his side, said Gingrich has a "far more condescending to Michele Bachmann than he does to the men on the stage … It's something we noticed a couple debates ago, but it looks like Bachmann has had enough."
Gingrich mentioned Lazio as a character witness in his efforts to reform Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As Gawker's Jim Newell writes, "Talk to former Rep. Rick Lazio, he says. Maybe we will! Which Bronx homeless shelter is ol' Laz living in these days?" Lazio is mostly forgotten. Clinton is most-liked politician in America right now.
Video of the exchange: