And in the middle of it all, Gingrich had a new problem to contend with: a report in Politico that he had at one point owed $250,001 to $500,000 to the upscale jewelry store Tiffany and Co. The amount was disclosed as a liability from a “revolving charge account” in financial disclosure forms for 2005 and 2006 filed by his wife, Callista, who was then employed by the House Agriculture Committee.
In response to an e-mail from The Washington Post inquiring whether he would be willing to disclose what he bought for that sum, Gingrich responded with one word and a sign-off:
With the survival of his campaign in question barely a week after he formally announced it, he spent much of Tuesday making phone calls, sending e-mails and giving interviews in an effort to change the toxic story line.
But conservatives were having none of it.
“He can’t help himself. Gingrich prefers extravagant lambasting when a mere distancing would do, and the over-arching theoretical construct to a mundane pander,” wrote Rich Lowry in National Review Online. “He is drawn irresistibly to operatic overstatement — sometimes brilliant, always interesting, and occasionally downright absurd.”
In particular, many felt betrayed when Gingrich branded as “right-wing extremism” the House Republicans’ plan to overhaul Medicare, providing a ready-made soundbite that Democratic opponents can use against the GOP members who voted for the budget that included it.
Moreover, Gingrich’s comments were a rebuke of the plan’s creator, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a rising star revered by conservative activists as a bold visionary — much as Gingrich had been by an earlier generation.
Still, Gingrich was taken to task during an interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett. “Ryan’s in the fight of his life, and you’re shooting at him from behind, saying this is just right-wing Obama-ism,” he said.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) told CNN, “Here you’ve got Representative Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees.”
Haley’s comments carried particular weight and suggested that the fury Gingrich created has spread beyond the Beltway. She is a tea party favorite whose presidential endorsement is being highly sought, given that her state holds the third contest of the primary season.
Gingrich acknowledged to tea party activists in a conference call that his words had been “inelegant.” And he apologized to Ryan by phone Tuesday afternoon, Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler said.