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Gingrich to NewsHour: I Have Momentum to Beat ‘Liberal’ Romney

January 19, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich sat down with Gwen Ifill Thursday in South Carolina after Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his endorsement of the former speaker of the House. Gingrich discussed his momentum ahead of Saturday's primary, and said his candidacy was the only "practical vote" to stop a Mitt Romney nomination.
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MARGARET WARNER: Gingrich told our Gwen Ifill today in South Carolina that Perry’s endorsement will help him keep up the momentum.

Gwen talked with him aboard his campaign bus.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Speaker, welcome.

So, today, you got Rick Perry’s endorsement. Is that the consolidation of the conservative vote that you have been talking about?

NEWT GINGRICH: Yeah, it’s another step.

I think, frankly, when Michele Bachmann stepped out, when Herman Cain stepped out, at each stage — and even a little bit with Tim Pawlenty — at each stage, you began to see conservatives who would not go to Romney because he was just too liberal for their background.

I have made mistakes in my life. I have had to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God.Newt Gingrich

And so I think that Gov. Perry actually endorsing me today was very helpful and I think will make a very big difference both around the country and an enormous difference in Texas.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean Rick Santorum should now do the same thing?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I mean Rick Santorum has to do what he wants to. People, after all, said back in June and July that I was dead. And I didn’t stop. So, Rick has every right to keep running. He just, after all, was declared the winner in Iowa.

But I think for Rick’s voters, I’m going to make a very direct appeal, because if you look at the polling numbers, I’m the only candidate who could potentially stop Mitt Romney. And so voters who don’t want a Massachusetts moderate or, by the standard of most Republicans, a liberal, I’m the only practical vote in order to stop him.

GWEN IFILL: Does it make a difference that Rick Santorum has won in Iowa?

NEWT GINGRICH: No, I think it actually takes a little momentum away from Romney, because he now can’t claim to have set history, which he was doing in for a couple days. And it just reminds people this is a wide-open race.

GWEN IFILL: You said that you were left for dead last summer in Iowa. What changed? What explains the rebound?

NEWT GINGRICH: First of all, I was never as weak as the Washington pundits kept saying.

And, second, talking about big ideas, big solutions, developing a 21st century contract with America, all those things came together in a way that was very, very effective.

GWEN IFILL: Just a few minutes ago, Mitt Romney’s campaign put out a statement from Peter King, who called you erratic, self-serving and guilty of narcissism.

Everybody on the air in South Carolina seems to be targeting you. How do you respond to that?

NEWT GINGRICH: They’re for Mitt Romney.

I mean, you know, Mitt Romney’s guys are going to say what Mitt Romney’s guys want to say. The fact is, as speaker of the House, I helped create the first majority in 40 years, the first reelected majority since 1928. We won three straight elections under my leadership. We balanced the budget for four years, the only times that’s happened in your lifetime.

We reformed welfare, and two out of three people went to work or went to school. We cut taxes in the largest capital gains tax cut in history, and the result was we got unemployment down to 4.2 percent. I don’t see any of my critics who have balanced the budget since I left. I don’t see any of my critics who have reformed an entitlement since I left.

So, in terms of — am I hard-driving, do I get things done, do I sometimes hurt people’s feelings by forcing them to get things done? You betcha.

GWEN IFILL: You think this is about hurt feelings?

NEWT GINGRICH: In some cases, sure it is.

GWEN IFILL: How about your ex-wife? Is that about hurt feelings? There have been so many questions today about Marianne Gingrich raising these questions about you. Is that hurt feelings?

NEWT GINGRICH: My only position, I’m not going to say anything negative about Marianne.

My daughters have both written a letter to ABC News saying it was totally inappropriate. They are prepared to talk on the record. And anybody who wants any detailed conversation can talk to Kathy and Jackie. I’m not going to discuss it.

GWEN IFILL: I understand that you were just asked about it at a rally in a kind of circular way.

Someone asked about what they should do about their feelings about your baggage, your background, your mistakes, as you put it.

NEWT GINGRICH: Sure. I gave him the same answer I give everyone, which is I have made mistakes in my life. I have had to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

I am a 68-year-old grandfather. I have a great marriage with Callista. I am very close to my daughters and my son-in-laws. We are very close to our grandchildren. People have to look and decide.

GWEN IFILL: Until today, so much of the discussion in this race has been about taxes and about income. You said yesterday you were going to release your income taxes. When are going to see those?

NEWT GINGRICH: We’re going to release it later on today.

GWEN IFILL: Later on today.

Do you think that this is something which resonates with voters?

NEWT GINGRICH: I think that it is very difficult for Romney to ask people to vote for him without revealing his taxes, just because there are so many questions being raised.

But, you know, it did turn out I paid probably twice a big a percentage of taxes as he is did based on the initial look at the two of them.

GWEN IFILL: There have been a lot of questions about your calling the president the food stamp president.

There are 839,000, I think, people in South Carolina who are on food stamps. What does that message say to them?

NEWT GINGRICH: It says to them I would like to help them get a job, so they can get a paycheck.

I want to be able to get their income high enough that they don’t need food stamps. The president has not been able to get the economy working. And the president has actually put more Americans on food stamps through his policies than any president in American history. That’s just a fact.

So, I’d like to run as the candidate of opportunity, much like Reagan in 1980, with a program to create jobs, to stimulate the economy, to have economic growth. The president’s doing just the opposite. Look what he just did with the Keystone pipeline, where he killed 20,000 to 50,000 jobs.

I think they have no sense in the Obama White House about how to create jobs.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about food stamps and working and jobs, how about the working poor, people who actually have jobs and just aren’t earning enough? Is that also President Obama’s problem?

NEWT GINGRICH: My goal is to get those folk to have better jobs. Part of the reason I’m proposing a dramatic change in unemployment compensation, tying it to a training program, is that if somebody can’t find a job, during the period we’re giving them money, they should be spending their time learning, so they can get a better job.

GWEN IFILL: Tonight, you have a big debate, Saturday, big election here in South Carolina. What has to happen in the next 24 to 48 hours for you to come out of South Carolina still smiling?

NEWT GINGRICH: We just have to keep the momentum up.

I mean, the clearer it gets that Romney was a pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, pro-abortion governor of Massachusetts, that the gap between his commercials and his actual record is amazing, that he was 47th in job creation, fourth from the bottom, if we can keep that distinction between my record and his record, between a conservative and somebody who is pretty liberal by Republican standards, I think we w’ll have a great Saturday.

So, through the debate tonight and through tomorrow and Saturday — we will campaign all day Saturday – we’ll just keep saying the same things.

GWEN IFILL: And if Mitt Romney wins on Saturday, you stand by your statement that if he wins in South Carolina, the Republicans will nominate a moderate who will lose to Barack Obama in the fall?

NEWT GINGRICH: I think it gets a little harder to stop him, although, as Karl Rove pointed out two days ago, he’s not doing well enough to be very convincing.

And if you add the conservative vote together between Santorum and me, we would beat Romney by 60-40. So my job — if Rick stays in the race, my job is to get his voters to decide they want to help beat Romney, which means they vote for me.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Speaker, thank you so much.

NEWT GINGRICH: Thank you. Good to see you.

GWEN IFILL: It’s good to see you, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Gwen is with us now.

Gwen, you are a traveling woman. You are now in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina.

Tell us how the people around Gingrich feel about his boost in the polls. Do they think this is real? What are they saying?

GWEN IFILL: I think you can say, Judy — you and I have covered a lot of these things — that this was the single craziest day in the 2012 campaign so far, with candidates in and out, and Newt Gingrich, who he admits he was left for roadkill in Iowa not long ago, all of a sudden riding this wave.

And they’re giddy. They’re giddy about it. But they’re also cautious about it. You heard him saying he is planning to go after Rick Santorum’s voters. He is going to tell everybody that Mitt Romney is a liberal. But as we were leaving his bus today, they were also conferring among themselves about what they were going to do about these latest allegations involving his ex-wife.

In fact, during that entire interview, Callista Gingrich was standing just behind the camera listening very closely to every conversation, especially to the part about Marianne Gingrich. So they know that they could be in a slippery slope here. Just as fast as you rise in these kinds of campaigns, sometimes, you can slip.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, they’re in other words, there may be some concern on their part that they may have to answer they may have to say more about the former Mrs. Gingrich’s comment.

GWEN IFILL: Oh, there’s definitely concern.

I think one of the things we’re watching for in this debate tonight is whether any of the other candidates directly bring it up, whether they want to raise questions about his moral capability. We saw Rick Perry in his withdrawal today attempt to inoculate Newt Gingrich on this point, and repeat some of the things that Gingrich himself has said about being forgiven by God for his past behavior.

So it will be interesting to see whether any of them have the gumption to throw it directly in his face or whether this becomes a debate tonight about other things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gwen, you mentioned that somebody in the crowd there with Gingrich had raised his baggage. I think that was the term you used in the interview. What are people saying to him as they listen to him? What are they responding to?

GWEN IFILL: I find it interesting in a very friendly crowd of a couple hundred people in Beaufort today at an otherwise very well-received event that someone had the nerve — it was only the first or second question he got from the crowd — to ask him — he said, I like a lot about you, but I’m a little worried about your past.

And as I worked the crowd and talked to people and asked them what they thought about Newt Gingrich, a lot were curious for the first time. They were people who were paying attention, who didn’t know what they thought about Mitt Romney, who at least told me they still hadn’t decided what they were going to do on Saturday.

And they were saying to me, yeah, but we want to know that this guy doesn’t — shares our values is the term people most likely use. That could be his Achilles’ heel in a state as conservative as South Carolina and where so many of the voters who come out to Saturday’s primary will be motivated not only by economic conservatism, but also by social conservatism, and want to make sure this guy is who he says he is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Gwen, you asked Speaker Gingrich, former Speaker Gingrich, about this, this notion that to nominate Mitt Romney is picking a moderate who would have a very hard time going up against President Obama.

Is that an argument that South Carolina voters seem to be accepting, buying into?

GWEN IFILL: Well, I will tell you this, Judy. It’s an argument that every single candidate in this race is making.

If you turn on the television here in South Carolina, in fact, I don’t think you don’t see furniture ads or news or weather anymore in the mornings. What you see are campaign ads. And a lot of these campaign ads are targeting Romney. When they do, it’s saying he’s like Obama, that they worry about that, but that a lot more of these ads are targeting Newt Gingrich.

You hear people like Ron Paul going after Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum going after Newt Gingrich as a Washington insider. Rick Perry, who dropped out just today, just a week ago was talking about all the insiders in the race. And today he endorsed one of the insiders.

So, you know, the good news for Newt Gingrich is he’s rising in the polls and he’s within barking distance of Mitt Romney. The bad news is that means that everybody is training their scrutiny on him, and I don’t think he has seen the end of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, all the more reason to watch tonight’s debate, Gwen. They’re down to four. And I know you’ll be right there and you will be reporting for us tomorrow night.

Gwen, thanks very much.

GWEN IFILL: And then there were four.

(LAUGHTER)

GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Judy.