Wes Moore challenges Herman Cain on Newt Gingrich race, class comments

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On the set of Now with Alex Wagner on MSNBC Tuesday, Herman Cain tangled with author Wes Moore, who questioned Cain on whether comments by Newt Gingrich — who Cain has endorsed for president — have been offensive to minorities.

Wagner asked Cain to respond to past Gingrich statements — saying poor people lack work ethic, challenging Fox News commenter Juan Williams personally during a recent GOP debate and later saying work seems to be a “strange, distant concept” to Williams, along with calling Spanish “the language of the ghetto,” could be offensive to minorities.

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She asked if, as a minority himself, the African-American former GOP presidential candidate found anything offensive in the comments. Cain said he found nothing divisive in the Gingrich comments, and noted that he’d known Gingrich since the 1990s, when the former House speaker named him to an economic and tax reform commission chaired by the late Congressman Jack Kemp.

“People who are looking for racial overtones in that kind of rhetoric, there’s nothing there,” Cain said, adding that Gingrich’s comments could only be interpreted as divisive to those who are looking for some sort of implied racial statement. it doesn’t exist.”

Moore then pushed back, saying that Cain’s personal friendship with Gingrich aside, he found the comments to be both “inaccurate” and offensive.

“And they’re offensive not just against minority groups, but against, I think, all people all Americans who believe there are a whole lot of people out there, whether it be white, black or a variety of different colors, poor and middle class, who are all trying to fight and all trying to have a piece of this larger idea of the American dream and the American pie,” Moore said. “And when they hear comments like those that Speaker Gingrich put together, they not only see that somehow this wall has been built up against them for the chance to succeed, but that people in positions of power and who have large megaphones are continuing to pull out this kind of vitriolic and nasty language.”

Cain said he took “issue” with Moore’s characterization of Gingrich’s language as “vitriolic,” and attempted to explain what he says Gingrich really wants to do the poor.

But Moore was not impressed, calling Gingrich out for “indicating that a Pulitzer prize winning journalist (Williams) is somehow lazy.”

“To say [Gingrich] was trying to insult Juan Williams, I didn’t take it that way,” Cain insisted. “And a lot of black people didn’t take it that way. If you think it insinuates a racial overtone, you will take it that way.”

Read more about Wes Moore here, and follow Moore on Twitter at @WesMoore1.

Read more about Herman Cain at @TheHermanCain.

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.