Newt Gingrich, who’s still getting pancaked by conservatives for his harsh comments about the Ryan plan on Meet the Press, has been doing full throttle damage control efforts since then. Today, he did a new media teleconference. I was in on that and what follows are notes, not quotes, from the teleconference.
Opening Remarks from Newt Gingrich
Obviously, the Meet the Press comments were more controversial that I intended.
#1) My comments about food stamps were not, as Gregory claimed, racist.
#2) I oppose Obamacare on every front. There’s 2 1/2 years of background showing I oppose it.
#3) If the country were opposed to the Ryan plan, should we do it? I said “no” and used language that was too strong. I should have used different language.
Since then, I have signed a pledge to repeal Obamacare. I also oppose the mandate. That being said, I do think we should find a way to get people to pay for the healthcare they get.
I have reached out to Paul Ryan, I want to work with the House Republicans, and I want to increase the number of Republicans elected in Congress in 2012.
You’ve changed your positions on Libya, Cap and Trade, and you were specifically targeting Ryan’s plan. Are you flip-flopping here?
I have never supported cap and trade in its current form. On Libya, my position changed when the President’s position changed. I have written a column in favor of Ryan’s position. I have been for it.
I think conservatives need to be aware that we are proposing large scale change. We need to make sure that the American people support it, not seek to impose it over people.
You said in an interview a couple of weeks previous to that interview that you would vote for Paul Ryan’s plan. Would you still vote for it?
Yes. The challenge is making sure the American people want it. If they want it, we should support it.
Follow-up: Is it possible to separate the budget from the Ryan plan?
Yes. The Left wants to freeze us in place. Obama’s only chance is picking a fight with the Congress and being Harry Truman in 1948. If we win in 2012, we can push a bold, decisive plan in early 2013, but we can’t get it passed right now.
Can you talk in more detail about your differences with Paul Ryan?
I would offer, on a voluntary basis, some kind of support plan this year. When we did the 1996 thing, we did a lot of polling. Seniors like to have the right to be told that they have the right to choose, but they hate to be told they have to choose.
Part of what I am worried about is compelling people to go through a radical change that hasn’t been tested. Let people choose between the plans and make Obama stop it.
Medicare is a program in which you are faced with daily decisions that impact people’s lives. Health care is 10 times more complicated than national security.
I shouldn’t have allowed Gregory to set the terms to question. I see no reason we can’t all say, “The Ryan plan is a terrific start and we want the American people to join us in the process.”
Medicare is not like anything else. It’s something people really take personally. Had I understood how it would be heard, I would have said, “I’m proud of Paul for starting the process.”
Democrats have already announced they’re going to use your comments in ads. Reaction?
I’ll be glad to cut an ad for anybody who gets hit with an ad like that calling it a lie and saying that the Democrats have nothing to offer but fear.
The narrative from your critics is Newt is undisciplined. Is it fair?
The fair criticism that I’ve been an analyst and tried out ideas is fair. I probably should have gone in more hostile to Gregory. The whole show was a set-up and I should have handled it differently.
What about the mandate in 1993? Also, are you good enough on TV?
Well, I was explaining the position that was happening 20 years ago. It was a different time. I do a lot of talking, but sometimes, you’ll have a bad week. It happens.
You are stressing that you are against the imposition of the Ryan plan. How specifically is the Ryan plan coming from the Right?
I am very concerned about attitudes that say, “We’re really smart, but people are really stupid, and we have to do this to them.” You can’t think about driving something through without popular support. I don’t support a group imposing something on the American people that will change their behavior, without their approval. It’s a bad idea.
If the American people say, “I want to sign up for the Ryan plan,” it is precisely what the system is supposed to do. We need to do this with approval. We need to seek the popular will. The Founding Fathers understood that. We have to have the people with us. I am just saying to some of our friends, we need the people with us.
Summary: I am not a diehard Newt Gingrich supporter or someone who’s blind to his flaws, but I will say that painting Newt Gingrich as a RINO is faintly ridiculous. Over the last 30 years, when I think of the 3 men who were most important to moving the ball forward for conservatism, they’ve been Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, and Newt Gingrich. That being said, the way he characterized Ryan’s plan on Meet the Press was a mistake. He admits as much. I think people should just leave it at that without trying to draw some over reaching conclusion about Gingrich’s sincerity as a conservative.
I’d also add that the point that Newt hammered home in the teleconference again and again is a good one: It’s not enough to come with great policies. You have to build up support for those policies and get the American people on your side. On something as big as the Ryan plan, having the American people behind it before it’s pushed through is an absolute necessity. If you do the same thing Obama did, which is push big reforms without the support of the people, the result will be the same — the single worst election result in more than 50 years.