ORLANDO — After keeping evangelical Puerto Ricans and bored Tea Partiers waiting in a half-empty church sanctuary for nearly an hour on Saturday, Newt Gingrich arrived at the Centro de La Familia in Orlando and promised to support Puerto Rico's bid for statehood; agitate for a Cuban spring; instruct Congress to repeal Sarbanes-Oxley, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank; and personally shake the hand of—and take a picture with—every person in the room.
Before Gingrich arrived at the center, Puerto Rican men in suits roamed the sparsely populated sanctuary and women wearing their Sunday Best gently fanned themselves with signs that read, "Don't believe the liberal media," while Chris Tomlin classics "Better Is One Day" and "We Cry Holy" trickled out of the PA system. The crowd came alive as Don Carlos Méndez, mayor of Aguadilla City, Puerto Rico, took the stage to introduce Gingrich.
"I do believe that Newt Gingrich is going to be the next president of the United States," Mendez said, to wild applause. "And I do believe that Callista, his wife, Callista Gingrich is going to be a wonderful first lady. The best first lady ever!"
Gingrich took the stage, shook Mendez's hand, and introduced a surprise endorsee, a "county commissioner" who wanted to "say a word or two." While Mendez's endorsement brought the house down, the second, supposedly more local one, resulted in a few lazy claps: The commissioner was from Longwood, which is not only not a part of Orlando, but not even in the same county.
With endorsements out of the way, Gingrich got down to the business of bashing rival Mitt Romney for being in Wall Street's pocket. "My competitor on Tuesday has money power," he said. "There's no question on Tuesday he can raise more money from Wall Street than I can. What I want to have is people power. I want to ask each one of you to go out on Facebook, and Youtube, and Twitter, and on email, even by telephone and talking to people face to face—the old fashioned way," Gingrich said, because "this is a very important election."
Gingrich then dipped his toe into policy, saying that repealing Dodd-Frank would "help housing get better literally overnight. It wouldn't get healthy, but it would get better." The real problem with Dodd-Frank, Gingrich said, is that people can't get housing loans. Perhaps if Floridians' chief problem were not repaying the loans they currently have, this proposal would have gotten some more applause. As it was, Gingrich went from Dodd-Frank, to Obamacare, to Sarbanes-Oxley without getting much applause (and absolutely none for Sarbanes-Oxley).
The former House speaker struck his first chord by promising to support Puerto Rican statehood. "I want you to know that if the people of Puerto Rico have a referendum, and they vote for statehood, I will work with Congress to ensure that we work through that. I think in every way we have an opportunity here—I'm not urging people to vote one way or another, I think people in Puerto Rico have to make their own mind up—I will work with the governor and we will work with the Congress."
Perhaps under the impression that all Spanish speakers care about Cuba, Gingrich then promised to ignite a "Cuban spring."
"I find it amazing that President Obama can look east thousands of miles to Tunisia, Libya and Syria, but he can't look south 90 miles," Gingrich said (getting absolutely no applause from the largely Puerto Rican audience). "And I just think we've been far too slow and far too passive. You have my committment that we will work very aggressively and very directly in helping the people of Cuba, and also frankly in helping the people of Venezuela, where we have an opponent in Huge Chavez, where we need to do something to make sure he is not effective in undermining the United States." (This line got quite a bit of applause.)
Gingrich then laid out a case for not nominating a moderate, saying the GOP nominated moderates in 1996 and 2008. "I think frankly that Romneycare and Obamacare are so close together," Gingrich said, putting his left and right pointer fingers together, "that you could never distinguish them in a debate."
"So I think we need somebody out here," he said, spreading his arms wide. From the crowd, a young Puerto Rican woman yelled, "That's you!"