Republican US presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich threatened on Sunday to have US judges arrested if they disagreed with his policies as president, ratcheting up his attacks on the judiciary as he tries to halt a slide in his campaign.
“I got into this originally because of two things: the steady encroachment of secularism through the courts to redefine America as a non-religious country and the encroachment of the courts on the president’s commander-in-chief powers, which is enormously dangerous,” Gingrich said on CBS’ Face the Nation.
Gingrich has said that, as president, he would ignore any US Supreme Court decisions that conflicted with his powers as commander-in-chief.
He said he would subpoena a judge if the jurist disagreed with him, and send police “if you had to or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send a US Marshall” if necessary to bring the judge in.
The tough line against judges may please conservatives who rail against an “activist” judiciary over issues such as allowing gay marriage rights or limiting prayer in schools. However, it could also work against Gingrich, since voters are already angry over constant battling in Washington between the White House and Congress.
“That’s not going to sit well in a seven-second soundbite,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “When people hear that, that becomes divisive. And what are people most concerned about now? Divisiveness in Washington.”
Gingrich reached the top of the Republican field last month as the favored conservative alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. However, his front-runner status has prompted withering attacks from rivals that he is an unreliable conservative and influence peddler, particularly over fat fees he earned from Freddie Mac, a mortgage giant tied to the economic recession.
Gingrich acknowledged in a call with supporters and journalists that the onslaught was taking a toll.
“I feel badly about having to have this kind of a phone call just to dispel negative things. As all of you know, I’ve tried very hard to campaign on a positive basis,” he said.
Gingrich was attacked in the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, a leading voice in US conservatism, on Saturday over the US$1.6 million in payments he received from Freddie Mac.
“To wit, he has a soft spot for big government when he can use it for his own political ends,” the newspaper said.
Only weeks before the first voting for the Republican presidential nominee — Iowa’s caucuses on Jan. 3 and New Hampshire’s primary on Jan. 10 — Gingrich’s poll numbers have been slipping.
Polls still put him in first place in the race to oppose US President Barack Obama’s re-election bid, but his lead over Romney and US Representative Ron Paul has narrowed.
Gingrich has dropped to 28 percent from 37 percent in Gallup’s national tracking poll since the beginning of this month. In Iowa, a state many analysts consider an essential win for Gingrich, a range of polls show him slipping from about 32 percent to about 24 percent, still in first place, but only just in front of Romney and Paul.
“This is a candidate with a lot of baggage and some of the baggage has been chased out by the media and his opponents, and that is having an impact,” said Christopher Arterton, a political scientist at George Washington University.