Newt Gingrich speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference.… (Mark Wilson / Getty Images )
Newt Gingrich, speaking to a packed house Thursday at CPAC and sounding much like a Republican presidential candidate for 2012, challenged President Obama to adopt GOP policies on energy, environment and the economy to convince the American public that he's committed to a centrist approach.
Along those lines, Gingrich -- speaker of the House during the Clinton administration -- said Obama should follow the lead of President Clinton, who worked with congressional Republicans on welfare reform, spending cuts and balancing the budget.
Would Obama "like to work with us?" he asked those in the crowded ballroom at a Washington hotel. "Let's let him choose."
Beyond the irony of Gingrich praising Clinton, the man who was once one of his fiercest political adversaries, Gingrich's remarks were characteristically policy-oriented, giving a preview, perhaps, of how he would define his candidacy. And interestingly for a politician who has at times appropriated the inflammatory rhetoric of the "tea party" movement, Gingrich spent little time attempting to rally that faction of the room around him. In return, the crowd appeared more respectful than inspired.
Instead, Gingrich ripped Obama's national security record, specifically in the Middle East. "The Obama administration is wrong on terrorism, wrong on Iran, wrong on Hezbollah, wrong on the Muslim Brotherhood," he said. He called on Obama to commit to securing American energy resources, such as oil, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power.
And he went after a favorite conservative target: the Environmental Protection Agency. Gingrich said he would replace the agency with an "Environmental Solutions Agency" that would offer a more efficient framework for regulating energy producers while protecting the environment. "I believe you can love nature and be a conservative," he said.
Without using the term "socialism" as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota did earlier in the day, Gingrich told the crowd that Obama sought to use the EPA's regulation of carbon emission to control the economy in the way that the healthcare overhaul, he said, would allow him to control the healthcare sector.
"The two of them together is what is such a fundamental threat to freedom in this economy," he said.
Later Thursday, another potential 2012 candidate, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, will address the Conservative Political Action Conference, a three-day event expected to draw 11,000 activists. And in a late addition to the schedule, developer and reality-show star Donald Trump will speak as well. Trump also has talked of a presidential bid.