On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the audience put on a despicable display in South Carolina. (More)

The subhead of Steve Kornacki’s Salon column The Way to South Carolina’s Heart captured the ugliness on display in last night’s Wall Street Journal-Fox News Republican presidential primary debate:

With one inflammatory appeal to the lowest common denominator after another, Newt steals the show

The New York TimesCharles Blow was disturbed enough to post a column at 2:30am that begins:

That’s the way I like to spend my Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: watching Newt Gingrich sneer at Juan Williams, a black man, for having the temerity to ask him if his condescending remarks about the work ethic of poor black people are indeed condescending[.]

Here’s the video of the exchange:

Let’s start with Gingrich’s claim that “New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union.”

Both PolitiFact and FactCheck researched that last month and, not surprisingly, Gingrich is wrong. Yes, the starting pay for a custodial engineer is $55,625. But that is Gingrich’s “Master Janitor” position, a supervisory job that involves “hiring, training and supervising custodial staff; doing payroll; and maintaining and doing minor repairs to HVAC, boilers and plumbing.” Starting cleaners make only $15.77/hour, rising to $18.13/hour after two years.

Gingrich said the city could “hire 30 kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor.” The cleaner position is full-time, say 40 hours totaling $725.50/week. Divide that by 30 students, and it works out to $24/week per student. If each worked three hours a day after school, five days a week, each would be paid $1.60/hour. If that sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because it was the minimum wage when you got your first job … forty years ago.

Gingrich then revived his “food stamp president” rhetoric and, when challenged, doubled-down:

The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. Now, I know among the politically correct you are not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.

Never mind that President Obama inherited the Great Recession, caused by policies Gingrich advocated as Speaker in the 1990s. Never mind that two-thirds of food stamp recipients are white, that almost half are working, or that Gingrich opposes raising the minimum wage to help working Americans buy their own food.

Never mind any of that, because Gingrich’s answer wasn’t really about the minimum wage or school janitors or poverty. It was about turning white Americans’ frustration against black and brown Americans, so they won’t ask why Gingrich would give an average tax break of almost $2 million per year to the top 0.1% … and only $100 per month to average working Americans.

Dr. King would have asked that question. So should we all.


Happy Tuesday!