What will he learn from this week?
Not for the first time in his career, Gingrich is backpedaling. But more than taking back words may be required in this case. Gingrich has undermined his candidacy not simply because, in the eyes of many Republicans, he attacked House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare. His greater problem is that he reminded people, friend and foe alike, of his inability to keep his rhetoric under control.
The opening round of the former House speaker’s presidential campaign has turned into a Gingrich apology tour. In between his stops in Iowa, Gingrich has been conducting interviews with conservative commentators in an effort to roll back what he said about Ryan’s plan on Sunday to NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet the Press.” He has also apologized to Ryan (R-Wis.) for the harm he did to the congressman, the Medicare overhaul plan — and to himself.
Gingrich’s comments were somewhere between inelegant and wrongheaded. Onetime allies on the right have come down on the side of the harsher interpretation. Gingrich has gone so far in disavowing what he said that, in an interview Tuesday night with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, he warned Democrats not to use what he said on “Meet the Press” in any future ads.
“Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate,” he said.
The words from Gingrich on Sunday that stung the most, and from which he has been running away at every opportunity, were these: “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.”
That set off conservatives, from Rush Limbaugh to the Wall Street Journal editorial page to William Bennett, who gave Gingrich a lecture on his radio show Monday and told him what he needed to do. “To salvage your candidacy, say you blew it,” Bennett said.
Gingrich has acted on that blunt advice, with credit to Bennett and others, and seems to have executed a reversal of his comments. He says he made a big mistake by saying what he said. He says he likes the Ryan plan. He says: “The [House] budget vote is one that I am happy to say I would have voted for, I will defend, and I’d be glad to answer any Democrat who attempts to distort what I said.” He says he continues to oppose President Obama’s health-care plan.
He has also tried to offer explanations for seemingly being so ill-prepared for such an obvious interview question on the first Sunday of his campaign. For example, he says he shouldn’t have answered “a hypothetical baloney question.” The question Gregory asked was: