In a sign that the spat between Mr. Gingrich and Mitt Romney is definitely on the low road, the Gingrich campaign posted a Web ad on Thursday mocking Mr. Romney for, among other deviations from conservative orthodoxy, speaking French.
The minute-long ad, “The French Connection,’’ includes a cheesy bistro accordion tune and juxtaposes Mr. Romney welcoming the world to the Salt Lake City Olympics in French – “Je m’appelle Mitt Romney’’ – with a clip of the French-speaking John Kerry, whose knowledge of the tongue of Molière was used to stamp him as elitist during his failed bid for the presidency in 2004.
“Just like John Kerry, he speaks French, too,’’ the ad says of Mr. Romney, who spent 30 months in France as a young Mormon missionary.
Now comes intriguing circumstantial evidence that Mr. Gingrich, too, may have better than a tourist’s knowledge of French. He often tells campaign crowds of living in France as a teenager, when his Army father, Robert Gingrich, was stationed near Orléans. A visit to the World War I battlefield of Verdun awakened him to the seriousness of world events and made him aspire to public office, he says.
Mr. Gingrich attended an American school. But an article by Agence France-Presse quoted a biographer, Mel Steely, as saying that the teenage Newton “had enough French to survive.’’
Mr. Gingrich went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from Tulane, writing his dissertation titled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960.” Belgium, of course, is a French-speaking country, as were its African colonies. Many of the sources Mr. Gingrich cited in the thesis were in French. He either read the language well at the time or paid someone a small fortune to translate them.
A spokesman for Mr. Gingrich did not immediately respond to a request for edification. But as Mr. Romney might put it, touché.