Riding a wave. Voter polling buoying Newt Gingrich's run for the republican presidential nomination. We're questioning former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: After serving 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich resigned in 1998 but during that time, the 1994 election to be exact, engineering republicans gaining 54 seats ending 40 years of democratic control of the House. Now he is asking republicans to nominate him as the party's candidate to run against President Obama. Speaker Gingrich, welcome back to Iowa Press.
Gingrich: Good to be here, good to be with you.
Borg: And across the table Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.
Glover: Mr. Speaker, most polls have shown you surging to the top of the republican presidential field, you are now in some cases considered the frontrunner. You have had a checkered past. Does this mean voters have forgiven you?
Gingrich: I think voters have rendered judgment and decided that they understand my weaknesses and they understand my strengths and they believe that at a time when the country is in deep trouble they want somebody who has big solutions and somebody who has a track record of getting big things done like balancing the budget for four years, reforming welfare so I think it's a balanced judgment and I'm very open to people getting to know me and getting to understand me and I've tried to answer questions in a very candid way and I think that is part of it is that people accept the sincerity of my willingness to talk with them about my life and to talk with them about where I am today and what I would try to accomplish.
Glover: And there's some polls seem to show a lot of volatility in the race. Is that support soft?
Gingrich: Sure, I think at this stage we're still going through a testing and I think if we look at the amount of negative ads that are being run in Iowa right now by my opponents I'd be very surprised if you didn't see some ups and downs over the next three weeks just because of the sheer number of attacks and counterattacks, all the things that are going on out there. But what I'm confident of is that in the end a positive solution on any campaign that focuses on President Obama as being the opponent and that offers people specific big ideas as I did yesterday at the University of Iowa and walking through brain science and this potential for Alzheimer’s and autism and Parkinson's disease, I did a big solutions campaign does have an attractiveness at a time when people think that this country is in substantial trouble.
Glover: What do you need from Iowa?
Gingrich: I also think I have to be in the top three. I would like to win but I think it's unknowable right now and I'm candidly getting a share of negative advertising. But I think I've got to do well enough here and I've got to do well enough in New Hampshire which is Romney's _____. If he doesn't win in New Hampshire the race is over for him. And then we get to South Carolina and Florida and I think I will win those and I think this will be a very exciting race. But I'd like to win here, I'm doing everything I can to win here but I'm very respectful of I think $6 to $9 million worth of negative ads.
Henderson: Let's talk about those negative ads. You have said you're chafing a bit to run a relentlessly positive campaign. At the core those ads raise questions about your consistency. How do you respond to the charges that are made in those ads?
Gingrich: Well, I have a 90% American conservative voting record, a 98.5% national right to life voting record. I am the only person in your lifetime to balance the federal budget four years in a row which I thought was a conservative achievement. I have helped passed the largest capital gains tax cut in history. Unemployment dropped to 4.2% which I thought was a conservative achievement. I helped pass the first and only major entitlement reform of your lifetime, welfare, two out of three people getting back to work or into school which I thought was a conservative achievement. And that is just in the Speakership. In the late 70s I worked actively with Ronald Reagan, helped develop supply side economics with Jack Kemp and others. I helped pass the tax cuts under Reagan. I helped fight and helped implement the end of the Soviet empire as a member of Congress. I helped found the conservative opportunity ... and you would think there's a point where the sheer weight of evidence beats the 30 second attack ad and I'm relying on the good judgment of Iowans to weigh the real history versus the 30 second attack ad.
Henderson: Speaking of the judgment of Iowans, a former Iowa Congressman Fred Grandy this past week endorsed you and in talking with him he told me one of the reasons he did so was because of the current members of Congress and the former members of Congress who have said things about you like you're unfit or question your leadership style. How do you respond directly to your former colleagues who raise those concerns?
Gingrich: I don't respond to my former colleagues. I tell the public I was a very strong Speaker. I helped drive us to a majority for the first time in 40 years. I helped develop the first re-election as a majority since 1928. In the process, as I said a minute ago, I'm getting this stuff done with Bill Clinton. Now, if you are able to maneuver so you can get welfare reform signed by Clinton, a tax cut signed by Clinton, four balanced budgets signed by Clinton you're going to make some people unhappy on two fronts. One front are the selfish members who didn't get their particular earmark and the other front are the idealists who say I'd rather it have been pure, I don't want welfare reform if Bill Clinton signs it. You can't be good enough. So, I say fine, if you want the people who are at the trough who are afraid I'm coming back to stop their earmarks that's fine and if you want the guys who are so ideologically pure they wouldn't want anything done that's fine. But I have a track record of actually getting conservative things done. Some columnist wrote this week I had the most effective effort to shift the country to the right of anybody since Ronald Reagan and that's a fact.
Borg: I want to go back to Kay's initial question here on the negative advertising and you choosing not to respond, how your campaign is not responding to that. But to use a boxing analogy, you know, a boxer hits some body blows early in the ring in the rounds to soften up that opponent. Aren't these body blows going to hurt if you get the nomination and go into a race with President Obama? Aren't you going to be pretty battered by negativism?
Gingrich: Look, anybody who thinks you're going to win the presidency from Barack Obama without a billion dollars of negativism is killing themselves. This president is going to go all -- he can't get re-elected with a positive campaign and he is going to go all out to be negative. It's probably why I'm challenging him to seven three-hour debates because you can't stand on the same platform and defend what he's doing. But I fully expect the general election campaign on the democratic side to be unendingly negative and vitriolic. That's just a fact no matter who the nominee is. What I have to prove in the next few months is that I can allow my opponents to say a variety of unpleasant things and cheerfully ignore them and all for the American people. So, let's take yesterday, I let my opponents be negative and I'll talk about brain science. Now, if you're any family in Iowa that cares about Alzheimer’s or autism or Parkinson’s or mental health or traumatic brain injury Newt Gingrich was talking to you and I'm not sure who the negative ads are talking to and I'm not -- this is a great gamble, I'm going to be clear. It's an act of faith in the American people that I can have a conversation with them despite sort of childish negative ads written by clever consultants who are paid a lot of money.
Borg: You think it's paying off right now with you leading the polls?
Gingrich: Well, I think in Iowa I think probably right now it's a three-way race. I think you've got Romney's money, Ron Paul's intense supporters and my supporters and I think it's a three-way race right now. I don't think it's clear to me who is going to win the caucus. But I also think the first reaction to negative advertising is oh my gosh if that's true how could I be for him. The second reaction is to be gee, is that true. And the third reaction is why are they saying those things that are false. And I think that is an organic -- my guess is that after Christmas, as we enter the final sprint most Iowans are going to be sickened of the negativity and sickened of the commercials written by consultants.
Glover: What do you make of the polls that show us an incredible small number of republican activists in this state have actually made a firm decision? We're three weeks out and something like a quarter of republican activists have decided who they're going to support.
Gingrich: I think it is one of the most amazing races in American history and I don’t' remember any nomination as comparable as 1940 where you had Taft and you had Dewey and then all of a sudden _____ in the spring. I just think this is a very unusual cycle. People I think are deeply troubled. I guess maybe the most thoughtful election in that of American history. People are deeply troubled. You know this because you go out and talk to them. Every Christmas they’re going to have real conversations. It's not just an either or kind of thing, it is a what about this, what about that and I think that's actually healthy. I expect that a very substantial number of caucus goers are going to walk in not yet having made up their mind, showing up as good citizens because they think they should go to the caucus and genuinely he arguments made that night at the caucus will in fact make a significant ...
Glover: What will the turnout be?
Gingrich: I have no idea.
Glover: And you campaign often as sort of an outsider, you're going to bring an outside view to Washington yet you have been in Washington for 30 years. How do you square those two?
Gingrich: When Callista and I did a movie on Ronald Reagan we went out and filmed at the ranch, I first met Reagan in 1974, I spent time with him so I had known him a long time but it was very revealing. Reagan spent one year out of eight at the ranch and we were there and we talked to people who had been there and had been with him all those years. Part of it was he wanted distance. Someone once said he managed to serve as president without ever being in Washington and I think that's psychologically true. ... Sacramento but if you said we it meant the people of California. If you said we and it meant the government you needed to resign. And Reagan had this very deep understanding. I am probably the longest term outsider in the republican party in that my views have always been those of outside the beltway and if you look at the last twelve years I have criss-crossed the country giving speeches, I worked with various businesses, I wrote books both novels and non-fiction. All of these were things where I'm not part of the Washington social circle, I'm not part of the Washington ____ and you can tell if you watch the conservative establishment in Washington is as horrified at the idea that I'll get elected as is the liberal establishment. That should tell you something about the relative antipathy that I'm a genuine outsider.
Henderson: During the debate last Saturday you took a good bit of lead from your opponents over your contract, they would characterize it as such with Freddie Mac. Do you regret taking that job? And do you regret criticizing that Romney, for his activities at Bain, in responding to one of his attacks?
Gingrich: I don't regret taking the job because it was a totally legal, non-lobbying, strategic advisory thing and I'm not going to go through life -- that part just gets mischaracterized. I do regret taking a shot at Mitt. It was foolish on my part. He had taken one more shot at me that he knew wasn't true and made an assertion that he knew was absurd but it violated all the core principles I have in terms of trying to stay positive despite temptation. It also communicated something I don't believe in. People who run those companies have an obligation to run the companies effectively and to do the best they can and I have said in the past many times that he's a good manager. So, it's one of the few times I think in the campaign where I said something that could have attracted ...
Glover: When you left Congress, you left Congress I think it's fair to say under something of a cloud. You paid a fine for ethics violations. How do you explain that or do you have to explain that on the campaign trail?
Gingrich: Yeah, it's fascinating. This has been something put into a YouTube video or something. First of all, it wasn't a fine. It was the expenses of the investigation. It explicitly was not a fine. In the day in the Florida House Mr. Johnson, the chair, said it's not a fine. Second, what is really infuriating the two substantive charges were subsequently both ruled in my favor. A U.S. federal judge said I was totally right. The Internal Revenue Service said I was totally right. The Federal Elections Commission said I was totally right. Now, you now know because she recently made a statement that Nancy Pelosi is one of the democratic members so I'll let you judge how partisan the process was. We agreed to a settlement to get it over with because many of the big things I accomplished came after that was done, the tax cuts, the balanced budgets, all those things came later and we had to get it over with. But we were being held hostage by partisan democrats. They had failed on 83 straight counts and it was an extraordinarily abusive ethics process.
Borg: But one charge did say, wasn't it false testimony?
Gingrich: The one charge was we had a very expensive law firm. The partner in that firm who was representing me delegated writing a letter to his junior person who delegated it to a brand new lawyer. The brand new lawyer wrote a letter that was just not accurate. There was no question, that letter was not accurate. It was in the middle of a whole bunch of stuff in the House. I didn't read it as carefully as I should have, neither did my staff because we had faith in the senior partner. That is the only thing was a procedural question about one particular letter and we agreed to pay the cost of investigating that one letter. That is the only thing we agreed to.
Glover: Do you regret anything you did during that period? Would you have done something differently?
Gingrich: I would have filed a charge against the democrats for discrediting the entire process the first day. I would have gone head on -- it was a totally dishonest process.
Henderson: Let us shift to the future and your proposal on Medicare. You have suggested some changes in Medicare Advantage which is what seniors know it as today. You have also been critical in some ways over the past few months of the Paul Ryan alternative which would give vouchers to the program recipients. I think even you've called it suicidal to make that change, right?
Gingrich: What I said was that when you're dealing with something that is in people's lives as much as Medicare they have to thoroughly understand it and they have to decide it is acceptable. You can't impose it without them understanding it. I need to say it because this happens to be a very good day to discuss this -- there's a brand new Wyden-Ryan bipartisan proposal which improves upon Ryan's original proposal, moves us in the right direction and allows people to keep the current Medicare if they want to applying the same premium support to the current Medicare system or to choose a variety of new alternatives. It doesn't apply to anybody who is 55 or over today. So, there's a transition period that people can be totally relaxed about. I think it's a -- first of all, I think it's a tremendous thing in breaking the logjam in Washington, that you have Wyden who is a democrat have the courage to step up and introduce a bill with Paul Ryan. Second, it's a bill I would certainly be comfortable signing as president and I think that it's a very important step in the right direction.
Glover: I think that we have a gridlock in Washington. We have the deficit debate that really wasn't resolved. How can you talk about getting something done in Congress when it appears as if Congress is so bitterly divided that nothing can happen?
Gingrich: One of the virtues of age is that I've actually seen this movie before. In 1979, 1980 people wrote articles about is the presidency too big and at that time, of course, Jimmy Carter was too small. Ronald Reagan within six months of becoming president nobody was writing articles about how big the presidency was because he fit the presidency. You currently have a president who tragically for the country hasn't got a clue how to be president. He served in the state legislature while running for the U.S. Senate, he served in the Senate while running for President, he has had no experience running things, he has had no experience in bipartisan negotiations and it shows. I'll give you an example of something that would be very easy to do. Wyden, not Wyden, I'm sorry, but Webb and Warner are two democratic senators in Virginia, have introduced a bill which would allow Virginia to develop oil and gas offshore and there's 50% of the royalties to the federal government, 37.5% to Virginia and 12.5% to land conservation and infrastructure. The House republicans ought to take that bill exactly as it is, pass it so you're sending a democratic bill to the Senate, Harry Reid would have to take it up. I believe it would pass the Senate, I think at least eight or ten democratic senators would vote for it. Is the President then going to veto a bill which increases American energy, increases American jobs and increases revenue to the federal government? Now, this President probably would be he is so deeply committed to left wing extremists that he can't even sign a middle class tax cut if it has the Keystone Pipeline in it which is 20,000 American jobs.
Glover: And most of the polls show that you and former Governor Romney are ahead of the republican pack. If you go to a republican activist how do you say this is why you ought to be for me and not Mitt Romney?
Gingrich: Well, I don't usually compare to Mitt Romney. I would go to him and say there's one candidate in this race who has helped build a national majority twice, 1980 and 1994. There's one candidate in this race who has actually successfully moved the country to the right. There's one candidate in this race who has actually balanced the federal budget four times. There's one candidate in this race who has actually passed a major entitlement reform. There is no other candidate who has, for 23 years I was the longest serving teacher in the senior military for one and two star generals. There's no other candidate in this race that has that kind of national security experience. So, I would look at people and say, not compared to my friends, but I think I am capable of getting done the skill of change we need in Washington.
Henderson: There are two Mormons in the race and you are a recent convert to Catholicism. I've heard voters raise questions about both the Catholic in the race and the two Mormons in the race. At some point will you give some sort of a speech about the presence of faith in the public square and the people who are office holders and how ...
Gingrich: It hasn't occurred to me but I sort of did some of that at the various faith and freedom rallies ...
Henderson: But it is becoming an issue on the trail. You had a gentleman who had been hired by your campaign here who has since left after his reference to the cult of Mormon. It obviously has been talked about.
Gingrich: I think -- I've said this in several debates -- I think having faith matters. I think we should respect each other's right to approach God in our own unique ways. And I'm not going to say anything negative about anyone's religion and I would hope that people of faith would respect and be glad that there are other people of faith running in this campaign even if it's not identical.
Glover: And if you go to issues that you're talking about on the campaign trail you have proposed an overhaul of the nation's tax system. Critics of that overhaul have said that it would drain about a billion and a half dollars from the federal treasury and would largely benefit the wealthy. How do you answer those questions?
Gingrich: They're wrong. What they're saying -- it's a static model. What does a static model mean? It means if I design a plan that dramatically expands the number of jobs in the United States their model doesn't count of the new jobs. So, they say that it is disproportionately helping the wealthy. Yeah, except the whole purpose of the plan is to create millions of new jobs. Reagan created, and I helped pass the bill that did it, Reagan created 1,300,000 in one month. Now, if you're currently unemployed that is a pretty terrific increase in your income level if you go from unemployment to having a good job. And so I would say if you look at the -- the goal of my plan is not redistribution, the goal of my plan is wealth creation by putting millions of Americans to work and the goal of my Social Security plan is to allow young people to have the right to choose their personal savings account which would give them two to three times as much income to Social Security and it would make them all capitalists because they would all own stocks and bonds and it actually reduces inequality over a generation by 50%.
Glover: But isn't that a return to trickle down economics?
Gingrich: No, it's actually build up jobs economics and figure out this notion -- if every young American had the right to have a personal Social Security they save for their entire working lifetime, they have the power of compound interest for their entire working lifetime you literally reduce inequality of wealth by 50% over the course of a generation because you now have every single person in that generation owning stocks and bonds that all have a real asset and they all have a real estate.
Henderson: Let us go global. You may inherit a world that looks different than it looks today but in particular as president how would you manage and build relationships in the Middle East?
Gingrich: I think that you have to start with a baseline of telling the truth. You have to start -- I'll give you an example. There were 11 missiles fired in Israel last month. I think it's pretty absurd to talk about a peace process when one side is firing 11 missiles in a month. There have been 300 and some ___ attacks and 200 and some missile attack in the last month, in the last year. So, I'd start by saying the folks on the Palestinian side have a pretty big abolition too and I would also say they have got to quit teaching terrorism in schools and they have got to quit glorifying terrorism on television. So, I'd be much more direct about what has to be done.
Henderson: So, there would be no "peace process"?
Gingrich: I think that a friendly peace process is by another means and I would call for a real peace process which begins with a cessation of violence and a cessation of teaching violence.
Borg: Let's broaden it then. As troops leave Iraq now, the announcement just this past week, leaving behind an unstable neighborhood, Iran, if you were president right now what would you do about Iran?
Gingrich: I was in a dialogue debate with Governor Huntsman who has been ambassador to _____ in Beijing and who is very smart on all this stuff and he came back and said the greatest national security problem in the next decade is Iran. And I agree with him and I think that our policy has to be to replace the current regime ideally by building a series of economic and diplomatic and covert strategies much the way we did with the Soviet empire. We ultimately collapsed the Soviet empire without a general war. It is understudied because it is so politically incorrect to believe Reagan actually wanted to do this but the fact is the Reagan strategy in the 80s is an astonishing example of the coherent use of power that is not military to gradually force your opponent into a hopeless place. The current Iranian dictatorship has been at war with the United States since 1979. They have killed American -- they seized our embassy illegally, they held hostages for 443 days, they killed Americans in Beirut, they killed Americans in Saudi Arabia. We now have ties in the last three or four weeks to the bombing of the two embassies in East Africa. These are bad people who are willing to do bad things and the sooner we replace that regime the safer the region will be.
Glover: Let's get a little more pragmatic if we could and then come back to some sort of partisan politics and mechanical politics things. One of the ways that we judge candidates is the way they run their campaigns because we figure that is how they might run the country should they be successful and get elected. You've had a big shakeup in your campaign last summer. How do you justify that? How do you defend the way you have run your campaign?
Gingrich: I justify it by telling the truth.
Glover: Which is?
Gingrich: We had a cultural conflict. I wanted to run the campaign on my running but we went to run a traditional campaign. If they were still here you'd have five negative attack ads on television. That is what they do and it's not that they're not good people but they represent a very traditional political culture which I think is ...
Glover: How did it get there in the first place?
Gingrich: Because I was trying to figure out how you run for president and I brought in people who were pretty good at these things and I watched them for about three months and I kept telling them I don't want to do that.
Henderson: You're a tad bit younger than Ronald Reagan was when ...
Gingrich: Four months.
Henderson: ...when he ran for president. Are you healthy and ready to launch the rigors of a campaign in the general election?
Gingrich: Anybody who wants to can come and hang out with me for three or four days and I'll let you decide whether I'm -- I have done this my whole life, I'm pretty good at pacing myself. I'm enjoying this immensely, partly because I'm not surrounded by the consultants. I'm running the campaign I believe in, the campaign of ideas, a campaign that uses the Internet, a campaign that is dramatically different from most campaigns and at least for the moment is it amazing how many people find it interesting to have a candidate of ideas rather than a candidate of attacks.
Borg: Our moment is up.
Gingrich: Thanks, Dean.
Borg: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next weekend, same times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.