Both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich are prospective candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. A clash between them is inevitable. Both are populists who cater to the party’s grassroots, Fox-News-Channel-loving base. They are both fighting to become the populist outsider who challenges party insiders like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. And as this invisible primary unfolds, Palin has been much savvier than the former speaker of the House.
Consider endorsements. Last year, in the NY-23 special election, Palin went out on a line to support Doug Hoffman while Gingrich voiced support for party insider Dede Scozzafava. This week, in the Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary, Palin’s candidate Karen Handel came in first, and will face Gingrich’s chosen candidate, former congressman Nathan Deal, in an August 10 runoff. Handel is favored.
Then there’s the Ground Zero mosque controversy. Both figures have released statements against the mosque. But each statement uses different language, and emphasizes different points. Palin’s argument against the Cordoba Project is framed in terms of decency and respect for the murdered, and raises serious questions about the political agenda of the mosque’s developers. Gingrich’s, on the other hand, is explicitly sectarian — he says no mosque should be built near Ground Zero until Saudi Arabia allows Christian churches on its land. (Although, if you accept his analogy, and I don’t, why stop at Ground Zero?)
No matter what you think about the Ground Zero mosque — I’m not sure what to think myself — it is easy to distinguish between the two arguments. Palin’s uses language aimed at the Reagan Democrats and independents who remain the key to American politics. Despite what her enemies say, it is not hate speech. Gingrich’s language is intemperate. His reasoning is likely to turn off just as many people as it turns on. Palin wins once again.