Newt Gingrich released a new ad last week attacking Mitt Romney’s many ideological heresies, as well as—wait for it—his ability to speak French. It’s a strange attack, since Gingrich has engaged in self-flattery by comparing himself to Charles de Gaulle (who famously also spoke French). Newt seems to be relying on the power of 2003-style French-bashing to secure conservative votes. Will it work?
Polling data suggests that Gingrich’s gambit has limited and fading appeal. Gallup, which regularly polls Americans on their views of foreign countries, found in 2011 that France ranked 6th among 20 countries featured in the survey, with 71 percent of Americans expressing a favorable view. Opinions of France hit a nadir in March of 2003, when only 34 percent of Americans expressed a positive view of the country, but since then they’ve rebounded steadily, and today they’re nearly back at pre-Iraq War levels. Favorable opinions of France are even on the rise among Republicans: In 2006, 45 percent expressed approval, and by 2010 that number had reached 52 percent. If this move strikes you as desperate, you’re onto something—once Gingrich loses South Carolina and Florida, as he almost surely will, you can expect an eventual concession to his hated Francophone adversaire.