Newt Gingrich made his first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate on Monday. Gingrich is embarking on a 17-stop tour across the state, which began with a Kiwanis luncheon in Dubuque. Gingrich also made stops in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines that day. He will return to the state later this week for a number of events in western Iowa.
Gingrich’s Iowa schedule leaves little doubt about how important Iowa is to his nomination strategy. To date, no candidate has ventured on such an expansive tour of the state as Gingrich is attempting this week. If this is any indication of the type campaign that Gingrich plans to run, he will be very successful in Iowa.
Even though Gingrich is proving that he has the necessary infrastructure in Iowa that will give him the opportunity to win the First-In-The-Nation state, his campaign has sputtered out of the gate because of recent comments that he made on Meet The Press last Sunday.
In the interview Gingrich was critical of Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, especially when it comes to Medicare. Gingrich told Meet The Press host David Gregory that Ryan’s proposal was “right-wing social engineering.” During the interview he also backed an individual mandate when he said, “I have said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond.”
Gingrich has been criticized for his comments by a number of conservatives and at least one other 2012 Republican presidential hopeful, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Santorum sent of a statement saying, “For several years, Newt Gingrich has deserved a lot of credit for thinking through a great many issues in a serious and interesting fashion. But his criticism of Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan on Sunday was a big departure from Speaker Gingrich’s often sound policy proposals. Furthermore, it was a departure from his support of Paul Ryan’s plan just a few weeks ago.”
Gingrich’s comments caught a number of people off guard because just two weeks ago he praised Congressman Ryan in an email newsletter and told Time Magazine that Ryan was “brave” and a “man of ideas.” When pressed, he also said that he would vote for it. In essence, what Gingrich told David Gregory on Meet The Press was a complete departure from what he had said just days earlier.
Santorum then compared Gingrich’s position with that of Mitt Romney, a comparison that could damage Gingrich’s path to the Republican nomination.
“As for the rest of our nation’s health care system, it is out of line with conservative principles to continue to support individual mandates as both the Speaker did yesterday and Governor Romney did last week. A mandate, be it at the state or federal level, is still a government power-grab that neither lowers costs nor enhances individual choice, principles that are the essence of the market-based reforms our party should be supporting,” Santorum concluded.
On Monday in Iowa, Gingrich tried to walk back some of his comments. While talking to the media after his speech to the Kiwanis club, TheIowaRepublican.com asked Gingrich what is the nuanced position that he is trying to stake out in regards to the Ryan proposal.
Gingrich launched into an almost 10 minute defense of what he said on Meet The Press.
Gingrich told TheIowaRepublican.com:
I’m glad you asked me that. That’s exactly right. Look, the Ryan budget is 39 trillion dollars over ten years. It’s a very courageous budget. I wrote a newsletter about it, comparing Paul Ryan to Paul Revere, and sort of ridiculing President Obama’s pathetic budget speech compared to Ryan’s courage. So the over all budget, I agree with…
Let me make very clear, I’m very respectful of what Paul Ryan has done. I think it is a remarkable achievement that he put it together, but I do think there are aspects of that I would approach differently because I think we need more choice, and more ability to improve the system.
Again, I founded the Center for Health Transformation. I wrote a book called Saving Lives and Saving Money in 2002, and I really care about health issues, and they are really complicated issues.
Let me put it to you this way, unless you work on health solutions to dramatically lower the cost of health care, you are never going to solve the budget problem. Unless you work on health responsibility and get people engaged in their own health, so that, for example, diabetics take care of themselves, you are never going to solve the health care problem. Unless you work on the healthcare system so you get it much more rapidly changing, much more local, much less bureaucratical, you’re not going to solve the problem.
Then you get around to financing. I’ve said for years, Washington tends to start, this is not a Paul Ryan comment, this is a Washington comment, Washington tends to stop and start with financing, but financing isn’t the problem. The problem is what are you paying for? I don’t care how you try to solve financing. If, you don’t fix these other three components you are going to go bankrupt. The only question is how do you go bankrupt. I believe you need a much more comprehensive, much more fundamental approach to Medicare.
I was very surprised by the response [to my comments] because of how David Gregory set up the question, which was fine. You know, you either have to say you would vote for it no matter what or you have to say I disagree. Then it suddenly became Gingrich in big disagreement with Paul Ryan. I think that Paul Ryan is brilliant. I think overall what he is doing is tremendous, but I do think on two things, science and Medicare, he and I, hopefully as friends, have an agreement to disagree on how we get to the solution.
TheIowaRepublican.com then asked Gingrich if he still thought the Ryan plan was social engineering.
Gingrich replied by saying:
This is where there is a real disagreement, and honest disagreement. He’s doing something different than I would do. I don’t think you want to come in and say to every single American, that we are going to change uniformly for all of you, in the most fundamental way, what’s going to happen to you at 65.
When we passed welfare reform, I’m pretty sensitive to this, it was the most successful entitlement reform of your lifetime. When we passed it, we talked it through enough. We had 92 percent approval, including by the way 88 percent of the people on welfare, because we won the argument that giving people money for doing nothing is destructive.
So all I’m saying to Republicans is there is a way to get there that increases personal choice, improves the Medicare system the way that people will like, but is a slightly different approach. I would hope that they would be open to the idea that we could talk together about finding a better way to get it done. This is not against getting it done, it’s about finding the best possible way about getting it done.
There is little doubt that Gingrich has thought through his position on this issue, but his nuanced position will be a detriment on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, we live in the era of sound bites and one-liners. Lengthy seven minute answers are not going to cut it, and regardless of what he said, his position basically mirrors that of Mitt Romney’s, and that is a piece of political real estate that nobody is looking to occupy.
Photo by Dave Davidson
Gingrich was also confronted by an Iowan on his way into his Dubuque event.
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