Al Sharpton and Rachel Maddow had an explosively caustic argument with former Newt Gingrich spokesman (and current Gingrich Super PAC adviser) Rick Tyler about the candidate's approach to race on Tuesday night, in which Tyler himself used some very dicey rhetoric about African Americans.
Both MSNBC hosts had previously excoriated Gingrich for calling President Obama the "Entertainer In Chief" and telling him to "stop singing" during his speech just after his loss in the Florida primary, saying that he was attempting to tap into racial animosity from white conservatives. Maddow took that concern directly to Tyler, who batted it away.
"MSNBC ought to get off this race baiting kick," he said, adding that the Republican Party has a "proud history" of fighting for civil rights going back to the Civil War.
"What about tonight?" Maddow asked. She pointed to Gingrich calling Obama "the food stamp president" and saying he wanted to get "black people" off of food stamps, telling Tyler, "there is a pattern here of, I think, obviously racially coded language that has nothing to do with the parties and the Civil War."
"I don't get it!" Tyler said. "...The Democrats have failed in the public schools with African Americans. They abort their babies, they've done nothing to lift them out of poverty." He said Gingrich was just trying to show black voters that he wasn't going to "give them a handout, tell them to live in public housing, shut up, collect a check and vote for a Democrat." He also said that he thought Sharpton would agree with him about many of these points.
Sharpton jumped in to make it clear just how little he really agreed. "Newt Gingrich is the one who brought race up!" he said. "...He's brought race in the campaign by name. You cannot then turn around and act like Rachel or I are bringing up race."
Tyler stuck to his guns, saying that that black voters had been plagued by "poor schools, poor neighborhoods, crime-ridden neighborhoods, a destruction of the family, and the Democrats want to abort their babies." For an attempt to endear Sharpton to his argument, these kinds of statements worked very, very poorly.
Sharpton used Tyler's comments to press his point. "Why would we vote for people that call our parents criminals?" he said. "We're not sadists or masochists!"
Tyler stuck to his point. "I think Newt Gingrich has tried to say there is another party," he said. "That there are better schools. There's a way to prosperity. That's why Newt has brought race into it, to appeal to African Americans that they might actually vote for a different way."
"What is his policy?" Sharpton thundered. "Reprimanding them, saying they don't have role models in their community is a policy?" Later, after Tyler said that GIngrich was not trying to appeal to people's "lower angels," Sharpton contradicted him, saying the candidate was trying to appeal to "devils."
Maddow also jumped back in, saying that "there's been nothing more racially divisive from a national Republican in the past five years" than what Gingrich was doing.