Commentary: Who will be the new moon ambassador?

The Miami HeraldFebruary 2, 2012 

To paraphrase Jackie Gleason's legendary TV character Ralph Kramden, "To the moon, Newt!"

What a crazy week, with the four Republican amigos zipping from coast to coast in Florida, promising everything from covert toppling of two octogenarian Cuban dictatorial brothers, a colony on the moon to inspire young people to dream again (oh, so retro Kennedy) and a talented new First Lady who would entertain dignitaries with her piano-playing and French horns (Camelot Part II on Geritol or Viagra?). And all that barely covers what former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich was saying.

Mitt Romney, thanks to a new debate coach, came on strong at the CNN debate Thursday in Jacksonville. Mitt also came up with a new nifty word on his way to Florida that seems to have caught on: “self-deportation.”

Gingrich calls that “an Obama-level fantasy.”And Newt’s right about the insanity of deporting the abuelitos, who have American children or grandchildren and have lived in this country for decades. Do we want another trail of tears on our national conscience?

“I don’t think grandmothers and grandfathers will self deport,” Gingrich said as a satellite audience of about 200 Hispanics chuckled at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa. The debate watch party at Doral was hosted by CNN en Español during the kick-off event of Jeb Bush’s Hispanic Leadership Network pow wow. “We’re not going to walk in there and grab a grandmother and then kick them out… and I think you have to be realistic in your indignation,” Gingrich lectured.

Wow. Newt — whose reputation as Mr. Bombastic in Congress goes back to Ronald Reagan’s era, when the congressman from Georgia called Reagan’s then-upcoming arms talks with Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich” — has mellowed and sounds quite reasonable. (Except for that moon colony and the French horns.)

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pressed Gingrich about a Spanish-language radio ad referring to the former Massachusetts governor as anti-immigrant — after our home boy Marco Rubio tsk-tsked the tasteless ad and Gingrich pulled it from the airwaves. Romney was incensed: “That ad was inexcusable!.… You know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers.”

So is Mitt “the most anti-immigrant candidate” in the galaxy? Beam him up, Scotty!

Ah, well, at least Mitt seems to have discovered us 500-plus years after Christopher Columbus landed in this brave new world. Plus, his father was born in Mexico! Self-deport, indeed. Mitt now says he wants to protect those poor souls abused by coyotes at the Mexican border. Not sure if he meant the animals with big teeth or the people smugglers with big guns.

In the meantime, a President Romney would protect the U.S. border with Mexico. (Has anybody bothered to check how many U.S. jobs Canadians have taken, eh? Or realized that the number of people crossing over from Mexico is at an all-time low and that deportations under the Obama administration are at an all-time high?)

Once the border is secure, we’ll deal with those 11 million undocumented folks and we’ll leave the grandparents alone, Mitt promised. He might even give the green light to a few young DREAMers if they’re willing to get killed in U.S. wars — but not if they have good grades and want to go to college. Hey, their parents broke U.S. immigration law, so now they must pay with blood. Gotta love this not-so-kind GOP of 2012.

As one audience member put it, “It’s reality TV!” I kept looking for one of the Kardashian sisters to show up and endorse an amigo.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum played the straight man, the grown up, but he hasn’t caught on with most Republicans, except the Christian right. Congressman Ron Paul of Texas may be the elder of the group, but young people love him. He’s a cut-up. Asked if he would release his medical records, the old doc challenged the other three to a marathon. Triple-chin Newt looked scared.

And so it went during the debate in which the Doral crowd participated, asking questions of the candidates by satellite. Florida, the nation’s fourth-largest state and a swing state at that (ooh, Newt loves to swing!), got noticed. Big issues from foreclosures to mega unemployment to U.S. policies toward Israel and Cuba took center stage-right. There were the Swiss bank account mentions, of course, and a tiff about Freddie and Fannie, which turned out to be much ado about both the front-runners having invested in those government-backed mortgage bonds.

And the well-heeled Hispanic crowd at Doral cheered when the candidates talked about English as the official language. (Fine by me, so long as teaching Spanish, German, Chinese and so forth doesn’t end up in Newt’s “ghetto language” category. At least Thursday night the NAACP was spared from another outrageous “food stamps” tongue lashing by Gingrich.)

More than halfway into the Best Reality TV Show in the Galaxy, a question from a woman in the Doral audience got almost a conga line going — metaphorically speaking. The amigos were asked: Who are the Hispanic leaders qualified for a Cabinet position or even the vice presidency in a GOP administration?

The usual names came out, with Rubio, of course, leading the pack. Said Newt: “When you think Cabinet, I think for example of Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico. You know at the Cabinet level, I think of somebody like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (who is supporting Romney). I actually thought about Marco Rubio on a slightly more dignified and central role than being in the Cabinet, but that’s another conversation.”

And then the commercial break came, and Ros-Lehtinen, who was sitting front and center at the Doral event, started to conga her way out of the satellite debate. “Got to run,” she told her fans as they approached to chat. “Have to get my resume ready. Ambassador to the moon! Here I come!”

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