Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich harshly criticized President Obama for commenting on Trayvon Martin’s race as he extended condolences to the 17-year-old shooting victim’s parents on Friday. Obama said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” a remark that Gingrich said he found “disgraceful” and “appalling.”
“What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful,” Gingrich said on Sean Hannity's radio show. “It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.
“Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban, or if he had been white, or if he had been Asian-American, or if he’d been a Native American. At some point, we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
Later, at a campaign event in Kenner, La., the former House speaker elaborated on his remarks, and made mention of dangerous “neighborhoods” for young people without expressly acknowledging any particular dangers for African-American youths targeted by whites.
“We have got to get beyond any sense of some American group being the other,” Gingrich said. “Every young American is endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And we have to, as a movement, the conservative movement, as a party, the Republican Party, has to be concerned about the quality of life and the sanctity of life of every American of every background. This is very, very important. And I think we have to recognize that all too often there are neighborhoods in which young people don’t have a chance to pursue happiness, they don’t have a decent future.”
Obama had commented on the Martin case for the first time on Friday amid a growing national uproar.
“I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” the president said, adding that he couldn’t help but think about his daughters. “I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.
“My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin,” Obama added. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Two other GOP candidates commented on the Martin case on Friday, although they did not attack Obama.
Also campaigning in Louisiana, which holds its primary on Saturday, former Sen. Rick Santorum said that in his view, Florida’s “stand your ground” law should not apply in a case where a gunman stalks an unarmed teenager. Martin was killed as he walked home from a convenience store with a snack. Alleged gunman George Zimmerman, 28, told police that Martin’s shooting was in self-defense although he had been following Martin based on suspicions the boy was up to no good.
Santorum said, “There’s a difference between 'stand your ground' and doing what he did, and it’s a horrible case. It’s chilling to hear what happened and, of course, the fact that law enforcement didn’t immediately go after and prosecute this case is another chilling example of obviously horrible decisions made by people in this process.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, also campaigning in Louisiana, said: “The shooting of Trayvon is a terrible tragedy -- unnecessary, uncalled for, and inexplicable at this point. What we’ve heard from the media reports suggest that it’s entirely appropriate for the district attorney to be looking into this and to have called a grand jury and find [out] what the facts are. We hope that justice is done in this case as in all cases. But [it’s] very tragic, and our hearts go out to his family, his loved ones, his friends. This shouldn’t have happened.”
Sarah Huisenga, Rebecca Kaplan, and Lindsey Boerma contributed.