Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich thanked the Washington press corps on Monday for grilling him on his shifting positions on Paul Ryan’s budget – he called Ryan last week to apologize for calling it “radical” – and for exposing a one-time loan from Tiffany’s for upwards of $500,000 in 2005-2006. “I can’t thank the Washington press corps enough,” Gingrich told more three-dozen national political reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on Monday morning. “Last week has convinced voters that I’m an outsider. I will clearly be the most change oriented, most fundamental reform candidate in this race.”
Gingrich said that his more than 7,300 votes in the House and decades in U.S. politics makes him ripe for what he calls “gotcha questions.” Why not just acknowledge that his positions have shifted over time? “If I say it in a direct way that becomes a 12-second sound byte and I get trapped into a position I held 20 years ago,” Gingrich said. “I don’t want to get mired by some clever reporter who goes back and finds some thing I said from 2 a.m. one day.”
That said, Gingrich readily admitted his views have evolved over time, particularly his view of the role of government. After working for George W. Bush’s administration on several issues, he said he realized how bureaucratic the system truly is. “I spent six years inside the executive branch trying to understand why is it so hard to get anything to happen?” Gingrich said. “That’s why I now believe decentralization – more power to the states.”
On the Ryan budget, Gingrich walked the same line he’s been tiptoeing for the last week: He says he supports it, but doesn’t agree with the mandate. “I don’t believe that either party should impose something on the American people,” he said. He was confident that Republicans can win on this issue if the plan isn’t seen as the end but “the beginning of a conversation about Medicare.”
On the Tiffany’s credit line, Gingrich underscored his own fiscal responsibility. “I am totally mystified,” he said. “We owe no personal debts, none. If Obama followed our pattern the country would be running a surplus and we’d be buying back debt from the Chinese.”
When asked if it hurt that so few establishment GOP types leaped to defend him last week, Gingrich said his unpopularity inside the Beltway should be seen as a badge of honor. “I have many, many supporters going back to the mid-eighties or earlier but they tend to be grass roots,” he said. “They tend not to be from Washington as I’m not a Washingtonian.” Gingrich lives in McLean, Virginia, a D.C. suburb.
Gingrich said his path to the presidency will go through all of the early primary states. He will not pick and choose like some of his competition. His platform will focus on American exceptionalism – he has a book, his 24th, coming out in June on the subject – the economy and keeping America safe. “The reports of my campaign’s death,” he said, trying to laugh off his belly flop last week into the presidential race, “have been highly exaggerated.”