GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich face off in last week's debate in Mesa, Arizona.
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GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich face off in last week's debate in Mesa, Arizona.

Story highlights

LZ Granderson says GOP candidates are falling over each other to pander to base

Gingrich pulls "Washington" card; Santorum calls Obama a snob on education, he says

Granderson: They'd rather push to the edge of lunacy than offer real reasons to vote for them

Strategy of proving tea party cred in extreme ways is backfiring, Granderson says

Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs. Watch him on Tuesdays on CNN Newsroom in the 9 am ET hour.

(CNN) —  

In politics, we’re all used to seeing various “cards” being played to fire up voters and gain the upper hand. 

The most popular is the “race card,” but there are others in the deck, such as the “Jesus card,” the “gender card” and the “immigration card.”

But Newt Gingrich took the card game to a whole new level this past weekend when he whipped out the hardly used, rarely seen “George Washington card.”

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Speaking to a church in Georgia, Gingrich criticized President Barack Obama for apologizing to the Afghan people for the accidental burning of Qurans at a military base – an incident that spurred riots and dozens of deaths in retaliation. The former House speaker told the congregation that President Washington would not have apologized “to those who are killing us.”

Now, besides the fact Obama did not apologize “to those who are killing us” or that our generals also apologized for the mistake or that the Lord’s Prayer asks God to forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us – I’m trying to figure out who, besides a “Jeopardy!” contestant, whips out a George Washington card in the first place?  

That’s the problem with Gingrich and the other GOP challengers. It seems they have mistaken their base’s fervor to defeat Obama for a fervor to hear them pander.

Remember Gingrich’s moon base speech while he was campaigning near NASA? Or Mitt Romney quoting “America the Beautiful” while in Iowa, saying: “If you count corn as an amber wave of grain, why, you have them right here. What a wonderful place this is.”

Seriously, who says that?    

The GOP’s once credible attacks on the president’s record have morphed into an incredible attack on the country’s intelligence. That change is reflected by Obama’s double-digit lead over the GOP field.

While “amber waves of grain” is pretty bad, I thought Romney showing up in Michigan last fall saying, “The trees are the right height. The grass is the right color for this time of year, kind of a brownish-greenish sort of thing. It just feels right,” was as low as pandering could go.

Then he showed up in Detroit a couple of days ago and repeated that the “trees are the right height.”  

Hurling out chunks of red meat at a rally is a longstanding practice. Massaging a position to suit the polls, or support the party, is something voters don’t like, but we understand the rationale. 

But telling a crowd you love their trees and dead grass? Ridiculous.

Granted, some of us are gullible enough to give each other high-fives because Rick Santorum called Obama a snob for promoting a college education. 

But the rest of us look at “Slick Rick’s” college degree, law degree and MBA, the fact that he’s sending his kids to college and owns at least six properties, and has earned millions, and wonder – What is he talking about? Virtually every socioeconomic study looking at the intersection of income and education shows a direct correlation between the two. For Santorum to vilify higher education for political gain – while obviously benefiting from attending universities – is embarrassing. Then saying that John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech standing up for the separation of church and state made him want to throw up? 

Well, that makes me nauseous.

Sometimes it seems as if Santorum and the others are content with pushing each other closer and closer to the edge of idiocy because that’s easier than pushing ideas to convince voters they’re the best person for the job.

It’s a tactic that might be fine for early cheers in February but will run out of steam the longer this process goes. Usually, a tough primary makes a candidate stronger for the general election, but between the exposure of character flaws and this dumbing-down of rhetoric, it seems to be having the reverse effect on the GOP. 

In November, a Pew poll showed then-front-runner Romney was leading Obama 53%-41% among independents. Now, Obama’s up 51%-42%, and the president hasn’t even started campaigning aggressively. Given some of the disconnected lunacy already heard during the primary, there’s no telling what the candidates think they have to say to prove their tea party street cred and lock down the nomination. 

I don’t know about you, but I have lost my ability to be surprised by the things that come out of these candidates’ mouths. I am fully prepared to hear Santorum refer to Obama as the anti-Christ, only to be one-upped the next day by someone calling Obama the super-duper, most evil anti-Christ ever – fo’ real.

It’s juvenile. It’s stupid. But apparently it’s the way this field has chosen to play. Which is why in the eyes of many, they have already lost the game.  

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.