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Who is Saul Alinsky, and why is Newt Gingrich so obsessed with him?

Newt Gingrich keeps likening President Obama to radical community organizer Saul Alinsky. But Gingrich seems to have adopted Alinsky's tactics himself, as has the tea party. Mainstream Republicans aren't happy.

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“The Tea Party comes from the same sense of outrage that the elites, as Gingrich calls them, are running the country,” Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political scientist and former Chicago alderman, told Bloomberg News. “The Tea Party has understood how to mobilize their anger and turn it to political results, which is the underlying motif of Alinsky.”

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Alinsky, Mr. Simpson says, was “a master community organizer who attempted to organize people without power, people that today we’d call the 99 percent, by using the strength of numbers to overcome clout and wealth.”

FreedomWorks, the tea party group headed by former Republican House leader Dick Armey, gives copies of “Rules for Radicals” to its leaders. “His tactics when it comes to grass-roots organizing are incredibly effective,” FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon told The Wall Street Journal. Tea partyers aggressively confronting lawmakers at town hall meetings is straight from Alinsky’s playbook.

Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. called the Chicago radical "very close to being an organizational genius."

As a former history professor, Gingrich not only understands Alinsky’s motif, he’s made it a key part of his campaign.

“Gingrich's clashes against the establishment are classic Alinsky,” writes Philip Klein, senior editorial writer for the conservative Washington Examiner.

Democrats may rankle at Gingrich’s painting Obama as an Alinsky acolyte – a sort of red-baiting, although Alinsky never joined any organization, communist or otherwise. But some Republicans say the former House speaker himself is destructively channeling Alinsky when, for example, he goes after Mitt Romney’s wealth.

“What the hell are you doing, Newt?” asked an incredulous Rudolph Giuliani, former New York mayor and one-time presidential candidate, on Fox News.

“I expect this from Saul Alinsky. This is what Saul Alinsky taught Barack Obama, and what you’re saying is part of the reason we’re in so much trouble right now,” Mr. Giuliani said.

All of which makes for a very interesting development within conservative American politics, including the Republican Party.

GOP nomination fights are often described as battles between Rockefeller Republicans and Goldwater Republicans,” writes Mr. Klein. “In 2012, Gingrich has brought us the Alinsky Republican.”

Election 101: Ten questions about Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate


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