Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's comments comparing Muslims to Nazis at the GOP debate Monday night have sparked a firestorm in the blogosphere, where liberals, and even some conservatives, have pounced on the former House speaker for what they view as excessive fear mongering.
"Of course Newt is taking it too far. He is appealing to the basest instincts of a very small minority of folks," said Matthew Dowd, ABC News consultant who served as chief strategist on George W. Bush's 2004 re-election team. "Either he is doing this for political purposes to distract people from a campaign in disarray, which is bad, or he actually believes it, which is scary."
At the New Hampshire debate Monday night, Gingrich responded to questions about loyalty tests for administration officials, saying, "The Pakistani who emigrated to the U.S., became a citizen, built a car bomb which luckily failed to go off in Times Square, was asked by the federal judge, how could he have done that when he signed and when he swore an oath to the United States. And he looked at the judge and said, 'You're my enemy. I lied.'"
"Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I'm in favor of saying to people, if you're not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period," Gingrich added to applause.
But Gingrich didn't stop there, despite an attempt by moderators to interject. He compared hiring Muslims to how Americans dealt with Nazis in the 1940s.
"We did this in dealing with the Nazis. We did this in dealing with the Communists. And it was controversial both times and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say, 'No,'" he concluded.
Many people have chastised Gingrich, whose senior aides resigned en masse last week, for invoking 1950s-era McCarthyism, a time during which free speech came under assault amid a heightened threat of Communism.
Muslim groups expressed outrage, saying Gingrich was merely exploiting Muslims for personal and political gain.
"It's really reprehensible when you have a mainstream presidential candidate equate Muslims with Nazis and communists," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It is what we've come to expect from the right wing of the political faction."
CAIR also assailed GOP candidates Herman Cain and Rick Santorum for their comments on the question of sharia law taking over the U.S. court system.
Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, raised eyebrows earlier this year when he said he wouldn't allow Muslims in his cabinet. Cain clarified the remark Monday, saying he might want to ask a Muslim person certain questions during a job interview about their loyalty to the country, a comment that Gingrich defended.
Although he might have created a firestorm, this isn't the first time Gingrich has made such a comparison and, to many, his most recent comments are anything but surprising.
Gingrich spoke fervently in August against the proposed mosque and community center to be built near Ground Zero, saying that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to do so just as "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington," or "we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor."
Gingrich brought up the same example of the attempted Times Square bomber's loyalty at a debate in February, saying he "lied [about his loyalty to America] to get American citizenship."
"Your generation is going to face a long struggle I believe at least as long as the Cold War," Gingrich warned students during a debate with Howard Dean at George Washington University. "It is going to be extraordinarily dangerous and I think if our opponents get either a biological or nuclear weapon we are in real trouble and we are not today having the national dialogue that we should be having about how dangerous this is and how bad it could get."
Although his comments from Monday have come under fire, observers say they are unlikely to significantly affect his already-fledgling campaign.
The comments Monday night are "not surprising coming [from] Newt in that he seems to have been born with a limited filter between his brain and his mouth," consultant Dowd said. But "it's hard to say it will really hurt his campaign when it was already taking on water and listing in the waves."
In a sign that the campaign was taking a turn for the worst, a number of Gingrich's top aides resigned last week, citing conflicting opinions about the direction of the campaign and what they perceive as a lack of motivation on the part of Gingrich and his wife, Callista, to do heavy, time-consuming fundraising and campaigning.