Newt Gingrich’s attack on Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan as “right-wing social engineering” could have resolved itself one of two ways. The first is that Gingrich could have stood his ground, proposed a different Medicare plan, and provoked a healthy debate among GOP presidential candidates about the role of government in health care. The second is that he could have apologized and groveled at Ryan’s feet for forgiveness. And groveling it is:

Professing himself “big fan” of Rep. Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich conceded Tuesday night that his criticism of the Republican budget leader’s Medicare plan was a “mistake.”

“I made a mistake,” Gingrich told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, recounting his apology call to Ryan earlier in the day. “The fact is that I have supported what Ryan’s trying to do on the budget,” he said. “The budget vote is one that I am happy to say I would have voted for.”

Gingrich often touts himself as the intellectual among the GOP crowd, a “one man think tank,” as Dan Balz put it in a Post profile of him last week. One would think someone so overflowing with ideas would have a preferred way of reforming Medicare that’s at least slightly different from the one endorsed by his party’s leaders in Congress. But he sensed that it’d be politically damaging to have a plan other than a simple endorsement of Ryan’s, and so he backtracked. The three main Democratic candidates in 2008 had very, very similar health care plans, but they at least argued vigorously over what few differences there were between them. The 2012 Republican field doesn’t seem likely to feature even that much disagreement.