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Newt Gingrich says he's an outsider: 'I'm the people's candidate'

May 23, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Christian Science Monitor )

To hear Newt Gingrich tell it, in terms of his presidential campaign, last week’s ceaseless tumult over the Medicare issue, which saw him publicly condemned by several prominent members of his own party, turned out to be a net plus.

Gingrich said the row showed everyday voters in Iowa and elsewhere that if he has riled the Washington establishment—media included—then he must be doing something right.

“I’m the people’s candidate,” the former House speaker said at a Monday morning breakfast at a Washington hotel hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, “not the capital’s candidate.”

At 67, Gingrich, who has worked in D.C. as a legislator, business consultant, policy theorist, and author for the better part of 30 years, says he’s running as an outsider.  “I’m not a Washington figure despite the time I’ve been here,” he told reporters, not long after noting he had cast 7,300 votes as a member of Congress.

But if Gingrich is an outsider, it may be more due to his fellow Republicans than anyone else. He was denounced by several conservative politicians and pundits last week as he first bashed Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to radically reshape Medicare as “right-wing social engineering” and then backtracked and praised Ryan’s proposal as politically courageous.

The seesaw left his nascent presidential campaign looking rickety right from the start. But Gingrich said crowds in Iowa as he campaigned last week were enthusiastic, and he borrowed,  as many in his situation often do, from Mark Twain. “Reports of my campaign’s death are highly exaggerated,” he said.

Gingrich said that political adversity was nothing new to him, citing Harry S Truman and Ronald Reagan as comeback role models and noting that his congressional career had its own setbacks.

Last week, Gingrich’s sharpest attacks were not for his critics, but for the media. “We’re in a society where gossip replaces serious policy,” he said. “I don’t have to participate in the conversation.”

Of reports that his wife ran up a large bill at the jeweler Tiffany, he said he had no debt. “God has been very good to us,” he added.

Gingrich again tried to walk a tight line between endorsing the specifics of Ryan’s plan, which would convert Medicare into a private insurance program for Americans 54 and under, and praising it generally. He suggested the GOP could be endangered politically if it hews too closely to the tenets of the proposal, but he said, “If this is the beginning of a conversation of how we improve Medicare . . . then it will be a very large net asset.”

He also impugned President Obama, saying he is “an irresponsible president who relies on dishonesty to hide his weaknesses.” He said he would center his campaign on themes of tax and regulatory reform, energy independence, and national and domestic security.

Gingrich plans to campaign this week in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

twitter: @jamesoliphant

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