LAS VEGAS, NV — As even the pastor enthusiastically introducing him at the International Church of Las Vegas on Friday noted, Newt Gingrich has always had a rocky relationship between his faith and his actions. The ex-Speaker’s address to the congregation was no different, featuring a moralizing denunciation of negative campaigning only hours after leveling most brutal attack yet against rival Mitt Romney.
Gingrich, who began his address by calling all the children in the audience to stand with him on stage, used them as a launching pad for a passionate condemnation of political mudslinging.
“I am ashamed of the negativity and the dishonesty that has characterized this campaign,” he said. “These young people deserve leaders who care enough to tell the truth.”
Hours earlier at a separate event, Gingrich all but called Romney anti-American, saying voters “want a candidate who represents Americans who work, pay taxes and believe in the Declaration of Independence, not somebody who is clearly against the American ideal.”
He repeated some of his attacks from that event for the church audience as well, criticizing Romney for saying he was not “concerned about the very poor.”
“My good friend, the governor of Massachusetts, said it’s OK not to worry about the poor because after all they have a safety net,” he said. “It’s not a safety net, it’s a spider web.”
If Gingrich seemed to be of two minds, it was well reflected in the pastors who introduced him. The church’s senior pastor, Paul Goulet, began the night by leading the audience in prayer for racial reconciliation, a “godly” unifying solution to immigration (in English and Spanish), and “honor” for all the candidates, including President Obama.
Then came guest speaker Dr. Jim Garlow, who began by condemning federal restrictions against endorsing candidates from the pulpit, then proceeded to do exactly that while railing against everything from gay marriage (“It is sin and should be called that!”) to the national debt (“Thou shalt not steal from future generations!”) Explaining his support for Gingrich, he alluded to his history of infidelity by calling him “as flawed as King David in the Old Testament.”
Romney wasn’t the only target of Gingrich’s speech: he also pledged to impeach federal justices whose decisions he disagreed with, saying “we do not have to allow bigoted, anti-religious judges to dictate the end of America as we know it.”
As for Obama, Newt said he “declared war on the Catholic church,” eliciting gasps from the audience, by requiring church-affiliated employers to cover birth control in their workers’ insurance policies.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.