Michael Tomasky: Newt’s Palestine Comments Are An Outrage

Will Newt’s Palestinian comments hurt him? That’s the biggest question from tonight, says Michael Tomasky.

Matthew Putney / ABC

If you looked at Saturday morning’s papers, you knew that the big issue coming into Saturday night’s debate was how Newt Gingrich was going to handle the Palestinian question. Saturday’s papers carried the news that Gingrich had described the Palestinians an “an invented people” in an interview he taped with The Jewish Channel. Obvious and flagrant match thrown on raging gasoline. Would he actually stand by this?

He’s Newt! Of course he did! He doubled . . . no, he quintupled down. “The Palestinian’s story of the right of return is based on a historically false story,” he said. Then he naturally compared himself to Ronald Reagan, who called the USSR an “evil empire” against (says Gingrich) the best wisdom of his advisers and the State Department sellouts, and who “believed the power of truth reframed the world and restated the world.” Gingrich then added: “I’m a Reaganite.”

The Palestinians, the equivalent of the Soviet Union? This is not going away for a couple of days yet at least. Whatever one believes about the history, no one can talk like that and lead a peace process—which is another way of saying that no one can talk like that and be president. Everyone knows this. Even arch-neocon Elliott Abrams knows this, for gosh sake, as evidenced by Abrams’s quote in The Washington Post story Saturday. If he knows it, every Republican voter knows it. Will it, and whatever further digging in of his heels Gingrich does over the next few days, make those voters decide, “okay, this guy is too full of himself, and much as we’d like to, we just can’t send him out there are our nominee”? Or will it make them think, “damn right, this is what we want to hear from our nominee”?

This will tell us a lot. If Gingrich is still going strong by Wednesday—if this reckless, f-you statement hasn’t hurt him—then we can fairly conclude that the GOP base just doesn’t give a shit and is wholly intent on nominating someone who expresses their rage about Barack Obama and the world. If he’s on the defensive about it, that will tell us that the base still has some relationship to the planet the rest of us live on. If it’s the former, Gingrich will likely get the nomination; if the latter, Mitt Romney still has a good shot. This remark and its fallout might be the make or break moment.