I would contend Newt Gingrich’s interview with Bill Bennett this morning did not go well for the candidate. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Bennett, one of the most patient and courteous hosts in talk radio, so exasperated with a guest:
Bill Bennett: We had some tough comments about you, want to give you a chance to respond. Let me put it this way: Is there anything about this Meet the Press interview that you would like to either take back or clarify today?
Newt Gingrich: Yeah, there’s a lot that I would like to clarify, but let me start by just saying something that I think you will fully understand. I don’t think I realized until after Sunday’s Meet the Press how big a threat my candidacy is to the Washington establishment. Think about that show. I go into the show, and I’m hit first with, ‘if you tell the truth about President Obama having food stamps than any other president in history, you’re a racist.’ Then I’m told later in the panel discussion by E.J. Dionne that if you even mention Detroit, you’re a racist…
Finally they ask me totally loaded question that I probably should have stepped back from and answered totally differently, asking me if you were in a position where you had to vote yes or no, on something the American people did not want, would you ram it through?
Now we had just been through Obama doing precisely that with Obamacare. So I suddenly find myself – having spent two and a half years fighting against Obamacare from the Center for Health Transformation which I founded, to help migrate us to a center-right, personally-oriented, market-oriented system – with everything that I’ve said for two and a half years opposing Obamacare, suddenly by late Sunday afternoon, people are confused about where I stand. I then turn, and with Paul Ryan, who I have praised, I have written newsletters about, I have talked about his budget, I said it was courageous, I said it was a tremendous step in the right direction, suddenly I’m supposed to be, as the Wall Street Journal writes this morning, telling House Republicans to ‘drop dead.’ Now that’s just plain baloney.
… a very narrow question. I am totally for what Paul Ryan is trying to do in general terms. I’m actually for more change over the next ten years. This budget is the beginning stage of the scale of change we need. And yet somehow to the Washington elites, that somehow becomes almost a caricature of what I’ve done throughout my entire career.
Bennett: …When you say you’re totally for what Paul Ryan is for and the Washington elites, that’s not what I heard. Maybe I’m part of the Washington elite. That’s not what the Journal heard. That’s not what Krauthammer heard, that’s not what Rush heard, that’s not what Mark Levin heard. That’s not what the listeners to this show heard. We heard you equate Paul Ryan’s plan with Obama’s plan. ‘Right-wing social engineering vs. left-wing social engineering.’ Why the hit on Ryan? It was clearly and unambiguously a criticism of Ryan.
Newt: That’s not a criticism of Ryan as a person.
Bennett: Not as a person, as a plan.
Newt: It is a criticism of — what I said was, you shouldn’t impose radical change!
Bennett: He’s not imposing radical change! How’s he imposing it? He can’t impose it. We don’t have the Senate and White House.
Newt: So since we can’t, then you can say we can all relax because he can’t do it. [Crosstalk] I was asked the question, would you do that? I wasn’t asked a question about where I stood on Ryan; I was asked, ‘should Republicans pass a plan that is unpopular’?
Bennett then plays the audio from Sunday:
Gregory: Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors… some premium support and–so that they can go out and buy private insurance?
Gingrich: I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors.
Returning to the interview:
Bennett: Why characterize the Ryan plan as right-wing social engineering, and call for a national conversation when we’re in the middle of a national conversion?
Newt: Well, to the degree we are in the middle of a national conversation, and the plan is open to change, and our goal is to move forward and modify and improve the plan, as opposed to either sell it or pass it, I’m for it.
Bennett: No one, Newt, no one took away from your comments on Meet the Press that you’re for it. No one. Left, right, no one.
Newt: Well, I just said I am for the process improving it, I didn’t say I was for the plan as it currently exists. I think that is an important distinction, Bill. I don’t think the job of House Republicans is only to sell the current plan. I think the job of House Republicans is to say, ‘this is the right scale of solution we need for the country, how do we improve this, and how do we get it to be acceptable, what do you American people need to know about this so that when it does pass, you will be glad it passed and you will help implement it?’
A few moments later…
Bennett: You’re equated Ryan’s plan on the right to Obama’s plan on the left. What the Journal said, and what I said yesterday, we’re in the middle of this fight, we’re in the middle of this debate, Ryan’s in the fight of his life, and you’re shooting at him from behind, saying this is just right-wing Obama-ism. This is what I think really rankles people.
Newt: I didn’t say it was right wing Obama-ism.
Bennett: You said it was right-wing social engineering! Even worse!
Newt: Look, if it’s imposed on the country, which was the context of the conversion– which Obamacare is and was!
(audible chuckle from Bennett)
Bennett: It was! But there’s not a chance Ryan’s can be! It can’t be! He’s trying to persuade people!