Malia's Trip and De Niro's Quip Show GOP Candidates Reaching for Campaign Issues

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Rick Santorum decided Tuesday to politicize the vacation destination of Malia Obama just hours after Newt Gingrich got up in arms over a joke Robert De Niro made about first ladies: Yep, it's been a banner day in the race to manufacture campaign issues.

The AFP reported Monday that Malia Obama would travel to Oaxaca, Mexico with 25 secret service agents and some friends as part of a school trip, but Politico reports that the White House quickly had the several news outlets that posted the story remove it from the Web as part of a general agreement to leave the first daughters out of the news when there wasn't good reason for coverage. Alas, the effort came too late to escape Rick Santorum's notice. The GOP candidate said Tuesday to Glenn Beck: "You should set an example. I think that’s what presidents do. They set an example. And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don’t set the example by sending your kids down there." As even Glenn Beck's website pointed out, the government is actually not saying anything of the kind. Travel warnings don't extend to the region where Malia Obama is staying, so we're guessing this little point of difference between the President and his would-be Republican rival won't have much sway with the electorate. Or at least, not the kind of sway Santorum wants. Warning the President to set an example by avoiding Mexico just a week after telling Puerto Ricans to remove Spanish from their list of official languages ...  Santorum just seems to be doing his very best to seem unappealing to Hispanic voters. 

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich pounced on a joke Robert De Niro made at a fundraiser with Michelle Obama on Monday. De Niro said, "Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady? Too soon right?" Let's point out, in case it's not obvious, that De Niro is probably well aware that the country is in fact ready for a white first lady, given there have been 43 of them, so he wasn't actually suggesting the electorate vote on race-based terms. Nevertheless, CNN reports, Gingrich said the line was "inexcusable," adding "I think the country is ready for a new first lady and he doesn't have to describe it in racial terms." And of course, to nip any controversy in the bud, the First Lady's spokesman has already chimed in to say the joke was "inappropriate." Perhaps so, but may we say, we're not sure Gingrich has stumbled on a real emotion-generating issue with this one. Will the electorate really worry that the Obama campaign is convincing voters not to go Republican because the candidates are white? 

Of course Gingrich and Santorum are also hitting their usual talking points on the trail this week on Iran and energy policy and whatnot. But still, today feels like some kind of low water mark for non-scandalous stories made into campaign issues. Maybe this is what happens when candidates can no longer talk about the economy without saying something embarrassing like "I don't care what the unemployment rate's gonna be."

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