At a breakfast with reporters this morning, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who's currently vying for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, said his comments on Meet the Press last week, where he said he opposed “right-wing social engineering,” were not an attack on Paul Ryan or Ryan’s budget. “Look, I think it was probably the wrong use of words because it triggered all sorts of folks suddenly thinking I was attacking somebody,” Gingrich said. “I wasn’t attacking somebody."
“I don’t believe either party should impose on the American people some proposal or theory against the will of the American people,” he continued. “If something is profoundly unpopular and it is very large, should the Republicans pass it? I shouldn’t have answered the question. I should have backed out and said, ‘It’s theoretical, that’s not what’s happening, I’m not doing it.’”
Gingrich said the issue for the 2012 election won’t be about the details of Medicare reform. “The Ryan plan is not what next year will be about,” Gingrich said. “The Ryan plan is the beginning of a conversation which Paul’s had the courage to raise it to the right level and the president has lacked the courage to match.”
The former congressman, who served in Congress for 20 years and was speaker of the House for four of those years, also argued he isn’t a D.C. establishment candidate “I’m not a Washington figure, despite the years I’ve been here,” Gingrich said. “I’m essentially an American whose ties are across the country and whose interest is, ‘how do you change Washington?,’ and not, ‘How do you make Washington happy?’”
On his past support for Dede Scozzafava, the liberal Republican nominated for the NY-23 special election in 2009, Gingrich defended himself. “I’ve spent my whole career, starting in 1960, trying to build the Republican party,” he said. “I helped grow the entire Georgia Republican party. That means when, see, people win primaries or when people win conventions, I tend to support the Republican candidate. Which is exactly what the Tea Parties would have done in Delaware and in Nevada. And so I would say, both sides have to learn to do this. The people who aren’t Tea Parties had better learn that if the Tea Party person wins the primary, you better be for them. The Tea Parties had better learn if someone who you don’t totally like who’s better than the Democrat wins the primary, you better be for them. You cannot build a party in which everybody reserves the right to abandon everybody else.”
Scozzafava eventually dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat--not the Republican.
But primary voters shouldn’t worry about his conservative authenticity, he said. “If you look at my career, it’s pretty clear how conservative I am,” Gingrich said. “I think people who try to make some case that I’m not a conservative have a very, very hard lifetime argument here.”