“I do not think that this President even begins to understand the threat of radical Islam.” In the hangar of Tampa Jet Systems, out near the airport, Newt Gingrich was getting into the final quarter of his stump speech. He doesn’t always go with the radical Islam bit, often skipping the whole bit completely. He must have taken one look at the audience and decided it was worth a go. But they were only half-responsive. “Obama’s made it against the rules to talk about the common threat but, well, they don’t belong to Rotary.” Slightly more enthusiastic response. A pause, and then: “I don’t want sharia law in any courtroom in this country.” That rang the bell. The cheers went up. They rattled the sheet metal roof. They roared approval. “Newt newt newt.” There were around eighty people in this cavernous space, and they were doing their best to fill it up.
Behind, a big gap of concrete, and then three tables of journalists, and a catafalque crowded with twenty camera crews watched with … not disbelief, not horror, but with boredom etched on their faces. Tired ageing men, scruffy, flabby, younger ones, women in pants and nineteen dollar hairdos, the cream of the travelling press corps. Two hours earlier they had been herded off the Newt bus, to sit through a series of warm ups by county-level party chairs – ‘I’m from X county, we’re the redheaded stepchild of the Tampa area’ – while waiting for his Newtness to drop from the sky, and wrap up three network interviews in the hangar next door. They had swarmed the small crowd, scarfing up vox pops, and getting, for their pains, the party line about the ‘liberal media’.