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As GOP Field Takes Shape, Gingrich on Defensive Over Medicare Remarks

May 17, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The GOP's 2012 presidential nomination battle shifted once again Monday when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who hasn't officially entered the race, announced he'd raised $10 million in one day. Political Editor David Chalian speaks with Gwen Ifill about the GOP field and Newt Gingrich's controversial Medicare comments.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Next, the unsettled Republican presidential nomination contest. From raising big money to performing damage control, the race to take on President Obama has become increasingly active.

The alternately shrinking and expanding campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination has shifted once again. On Monday, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, who is not even officially in the race yet, changed its parameters by announcing he had raised $10 million in a single day.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who joined the race only last week, was on the defensive with many of his fellow Republicans after dismissing a House plan to reform Medicare as — quote — “right-wing social engineering.”

Appearing on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Gingrich appeared to veer off-message when he seemed to support forcing individuals to purchase health insurance, the most disputed part of the new health care law.

NEWT GINGRICH, former speaker of the House (R): I have said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance, or you post a bond, or, in some way, you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.

GWEN IFILL: But Gingrich immediately sought to step away from those comments yesterday, releasing a YouTube video.

NEWT GINGRICH: I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone, because it is fundamentally wrong and, I believe, unconstitutional.

DONALD TRUMP, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: As candidates drop in and out, the Republican field is gradually taking shape. Real estate mogul Donald Trump dominated the coverage of the race only weeks ago, after raising questions about whether President Obama was born in the United States. But yesterday, after weeks of mockery and new questions about his business acumen, he said he wouldn’t run after all.

DONALD TRUMP: I have decided that we’re going to continue onward with “Celebrity Apprentice.” We’re going to continue making lots and lots of money for charity. I will not be running for president, as much as I would like to.

GWEN IFILL: A potentially more consequential decision, especially for social conservatives, came from former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee, who announced over the weekend he would forgo a second run for president.

MIKE HUCKABEE, former Arkansas governor (R): My answer is clear and firm. I will not seek the Republican nomination for president this year.

GWEN IFILL: The recent flurry of political activity has only intensified the pressure and the scrutiny on a handful of other undecided candidates. They include Ind. Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

For more now, we turn to NewsHour political editor David Chalian.

David, $10 million in one day is not chump change. Mitt Romney may not officially be in the race, but he certainly seems to be serious.

DAVID CHALIAN: You can’t sneeze at that, Gwen.

You know, since he’s indicated that he is very serious about making another run for the White House, almost all of the coverage of Mitt Romney, Gwen, has been about his flaws as a candidate, why is he such a flawed front-runner, his health care position, questions about his authenticity.

Today was a day for the Romney campaign to put forward their strength. And that was the purpose of this. We don’t have other fund-raising reports. The candidates don’t have to report until the middle of July. So, this is in a vacuum, where, in one day, they get to put out a total, $10.25 million. We have nothing to compare it to.

But we do know, four years ago when he did this, he raised about $6 million on a day like this, on a call day. And for the first quarter, the first three months of his last run in 2007, he raised, total, about $23 million. His fund-raisers are now talking about, this quarter, the first of this race, $40 million. That will wipe away the rest — the rest of the Republican field.

GWEN IFILL: So, he sets the bar, and everyone, at best, has to chase him.

You talk about people who — you’re talking about a flawed candidacy. Newt Gingrich’s official candidacy is only a week old, yet he seems to be tripping over his tongue.

DAVID CHALIAN: It’s really astonishing to see what a tough week he has had so far.

Part of it, Gwen remember, Newt Gingrich came into office — the last time he held public office was about 13 years ago. We’re in a new technological environment. Newt Gingrich is actually somebody who embraces this technology. We saw in your piece there he went right to YouTube to try to clarify.

But he’s operating in a world that he hasn’t really had to operate with this level of scrutiny. When he was back at — House speaker in 1998, this just wasn’t the environment. What he did here, by sort of stiff-arming Paul Ryan, the House Republican budget plan that we have talked about that wants to change Medicare, by sort of stiff-arming that, he just incurred the wrath of Republicans, from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, National Review. These are constituencies you need to court when you’re running in a Republican primary.

The other thing you will remember, when Paul Ryan’s budget passed, Gwen, all — we commented on all the presidential candidates. They said they commended Ryan for his bravery, but none of them had embraced it, because they know it doesn’t poll very well, this Medicare change.

Newt Gingrich…

GWEN IFILL: So, perhaps that is what Newt Gingrich was speaking to.

DAVID CHALIAN: Exactly. So, he was already starting to try to run a general election and appeal to the fact that this isn’t polling very well to a general election audience.

But he sort of forgot he has a primary to run here, and the entire party felt offended. So today he had to get on a call with conservative bloggers, say he’s reaching out to Paul Ryan, he used words that were far too strong.

This is somebody who has had really heated rhetoric in the last several years without an office and now he’s going to have to be much more cautious with his language.

GWEN IFILL: And now we know for sure two people who are out, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump. Let’s measure which is the more important of the two.

DAVID CHALIAN: Without a doubt, Mike Huckabee’s decision not to run, though not a surprise, I think, is probably the single biggest development we have had in the race thus far because of the space he occupied in the field.

He has a really strong appeal to social conservatives, won the Iowa caucuses last time around. He also struck a chord with that economic populism out in the country, especially fervent right now. We saw it — it drove a lot of the 2010 environment, as the Republicans tapped into that Tea Party energy and overtook the House.

I think it leaves a big gaping hole for somebody else to get in to — to do — both social conservatives and that economic populist message.

Donald Trump….

GWEN IFILL: No — no gaping hole left there.

DAVID CHALIAN: No gaping hole left there, has almost no impact on the race whatsoever, except maybe causes those of us in the press to consider how much attention we gave it in the last…

GWEN IFILL: To just calm down just a little bit.

DAVID CHALIAN: Exactly.

GWEN IFILL: But the people who might be interested in stepping into that vacuum, such as it is one is Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota. And the other one who everyone is waiting to see what he does is Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana.

DAVID CHALIAN: And, today, Mitch Daniels said I promise folks it’s not going to take me very long. I’m going to make this decision pretty quickly.

GWEN IFILL: Ah.

DAVID CHALIAN: It’s only been a couple weeks since the end of the Indiana legislature.

I do think…

GWEN IFILL: I feel like he’s been saying that a lot.

DAVID CHALIAN: I do think we will hear from him in the next week or two about a decision here. And every day, I think that the oddsmakers can come up with a different answer of what they think he’s going to do.

Michelle Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, I think, is a natural fit for that Huckabee voter world. And she has Iowa roots. She’s from there. She could make a very strong play amongst those caucus-goers in Iowa. So, she’s somebody to watch. Her aides are out there saying she’s all about certain to get into the race.

GWEN IFILL: And as opposed to others in this race, she can easily differentiate herself, not only on gender, but also on politics.

DAVID CHALIAN: No doubt about it. I mean, she is the head of the Tea Party Caucus in the Congress. She is the representative of this new sort of virulent strand of politics going on inside the Republican Party — and certainly on gender also, though.

She will obviously look different than everybody else on that debate stage. She will get a lot of attention.

GWEN IFILL: OK.

David Chalian, as always, thank you.

DAVID CHALIAN: Sure.