(Source: NBC’s Meet the Press)
MR. GREGORY: One many who came to the opposite conclusion this week and has announced he is full steam ahead for 2012 is here with us exclusively this morning to kick off the return of our Meet the Candidates series, where throughout this primary season we will once again bring you in-depth interviews with the candidates for president. Joining us live this morning, the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
REP. GINGRICH: Good to be with you, David.
MR. GREGORY: This is your 35th appearance on the program. You’ve said a lot and done a lot over the years for us to go through. Mr. Speaker, as you know, campaigns are about the future; and yet, you’re doing something very interesting, you’re asking the American people for a stunning second act in American politics. Why?
REP. GINGRICH: Well, I–you know, my dad was a career soldier for 27 years in the infantry, and I think there are times when citizenship requires that you do what you think is necessary. We are at one of the great turning points in American history, and I believe the decision the American people make in 2012 will do more to define the next half century than any election I can remember. And I think that we are at a crossroads economically; we’re at a crossroads in our core values as a country, what does it mean to be an American; we are in much greater danger in national security and homeland security than people realize. And having spent my lifetime, as you point out, studying this, working at it, becoming speaker of the House, spending the last 12 years as a small business owner and, and working on things with my wife–making movies, writing books–when you look at where we are, it just seemed to me that, that to not seek to help the country fix the problems we have would have been a failure of citizenship on my part. And we spent almost a year talking about this, looking at it, thinking about it very deeply, and I really believe we have to have a campaign which brings together millions of people. So it’s not about one person in the Oval Office performing magic. It’s going to take millions of Americans to get this country back on track.
MR. GREGORY: Let’s go through the issues that are going to be big in the campaign. And I want to start with the debt. The big fight right now is whether to raise the debt ceiling. The president says, “You got to do it.” The Treasury secretary says, “If you don’t do it, we have a double-dip recession.” Republicans say, “No, not so fast, not unless we get specific cuts in our government spending to cut the deficit before we raise the balance on America’s credit card.” You’ve been through this kind of fight before that goes to the mat, the shutdown of the government in the ’90s that didn’t turn out well politically for Republicans. And you wrote in your book “Lessons Learned the Hard Way” the following about these moments: “I was to learn something about the American people,” you wrote, “that too many conservatives don’t appreciate. They want their leaders to have principled disagreements, but they want these disagreements to be settled in constructive ways. That is not, of course, what our own activists were telling us. They were all gung ho for a brutal fight over spending and taxes. We mistook their enthusiasm for the views of the American public.” Given what you learned, would you tell members of your party now, “Don’t go to the mat on the debt ceiling? Increase the debt ceiling and fight about the budget separately.”
REP. GINGRICH: No. What I’d tell them is that I think Speaker John Boehner’s come up with a very good formula. It’s like a rheostat; it’s not on/off, it’s not yes/no. It is, “Mr. President, how many spending cuts are you willing to accept? We’ll give you the same dollar value of debt ceiling increase that you’ll give us in spending cuts. So if you only want $500 billion over the next five years in spending cuts, fine, here’s a $500 billion increase in the debt ceiling. And by the way, you’ll be back by the end of the year for another debt ceiling.” But I, I think the president’s also got to be held to an accountability for flexibility. If the debt ceiling matters that much, what is he willing to be flexible on? You take just one item which, which Congressman Paul Ryan has proposed, and most governors agree with: If you were to block grant Medicaid, that one step is probably worth $1 trillion; $700 billion to the federal government, about $200 billion to $300 billion to the state governments. So, as a taxpayer, paying both federal and state taxes, that’s $1 trillion less in debt over the next decade.
I, I would not agree to just an automatic blank-check debt ceiling. We want–you know, if your kids came in and had run up their credit cards and said, “Bail me out,” you wouldn’t say to them, “You don’t have to change your behavior. Here, have some more money.” You’d say, “Let’s have a conversation about your behavior.”
MR. GREGORY: But bottom line, if there’s negotiations going on and they can’t come to real resolution, you say go ahead, don’t vote to increase the debt ceiling?
REP. GINGRICH: I would say find a formula and pass very, very short debt ceiling increases with very small amounts and take some savings that the president couldn’t possibly veto. And if you had to, do a debt ceiling every three weeks. But do not give him a blank check. Because it’s wrong for the American people.
MR. GREGORY: But don’t let America default is what you’re saying as well.
REP. GINGRICH: Avoid default if you possibly can. And frankly, if you watch, they’ve all of a sudden said they got an extra four months that they didn’t think they had. So the secretary of the Treasury can do a great deal to maneuver.
MR. GREGORY: What about entitlements? The Medicare trust fund, in stories that have come out over the weekend, is now going to be depleted by 2024, five years earlier than predicted. Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…
REP. GINGRICH: Right.
MR. GREGORY: …some premium support and–so that they can go out and buy private insurance?
REP. GINGRICH: I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. But there are specific things you can do. At the Center for Health Transformation, which I helped found, we published a book called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” We thought that was a clear enough, simple enough idea, even for Washington. We–between Medicare and Medicaid, we pay between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks. And IBM has agreed to help solve it, American Express has agreed to help solve it, Visa’s agreed to help solve it. You can’t get anybody in this town to look at it. That’s, that’s almost $1 trillion over a decade. So there are things you can do to improve Medicare.
MR. GREGORY: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.
REP. GINGRICH: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the issue of taxes. You’ve been clear so far in your campaign. You want to reduce the corporate tax rate, reduce other taxes, make permanent the Bush era tax cuts. You won’t raise taxes? You won’t consider it as part of a balanced budget at any point, raising taxes?
REP. GINGRICH: No.
MR. GREGORY: Under no circumstances?
REP. GINGRICH: I, I believe this is a country which has overspent, it’s not undertaxed. And I believe every time you raise taxes, the politicians use that as an excuse to avoid facing the real decisions we’re, we’re confronting. We have a moment in history where we can get our house in order if we have the courage to stick to the job. I mean, I helped balance the budget for four straight years. We did it by cutting taxes and bringing the unemployment rate down to below 4 percent. The number one job in America today is to get people back to work because America only works when Americans are working.
MR. GREGORY: But serious bipartisan figures who have looked at this said you can’t simply have a conversation about bringing the deficit into balance, the budget into balance, without looking at revenue increases.
REP. GINGRICH: Look, serious bipartisan figures are operating within the Washington consensus, which is wrong. You can, in fact, fundamentally rethink the federal government. Let me give you an example. IBM and Dell, and the other high-tech companies came together, issued a report: If the federal government was simply run as effectively as a multinational corporation, it’s worth $125 billion a year. I just put on the table for you not paying crooks, which is worth between $70 billion and $120 billion a year. None of these serious bipartisan figures rethink the federal government. They fight over the current shape of the federal government.
MR. GREGORY: What, what about jobs? Jobless rate now at 9 percent. You gave a speech on Friday in Georgia, and you said the following about this president:
REP. GINGRICH: You want to be a country that creates food stamps, in which case frankly Obama’s is an enormous success. The most successful food stamp president in American history. Or do you want to be a country that creates paychecks?
MR. GREGORY: First of all, you gave a speech in Georgia with language a lot of people think could be coded racially-tinged language, calling the president, the first black president, a food stamp president.
REP. GINGRICH: Oh, come on, David.
MR. GREGORY: What did you mean? What was the point?
REP. GINGRICH: That’s, that’s bizarre. That–this kind of automatic reference to racism, this is the president of the United States. The president of the United States has to be held accountable. Now, the idea that–and what I said is factually true. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans is on food stamps. And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have–I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.
MR. GREGORY: Well, what did you mean?
REP. GINGRICH: Well, it’s very simple. He has policies–and I used a very direct analogy. He follows the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit. I follow the model that Rick Perry and others have used to create more jobs in Texas. You know, Texas two out of the last four years created more jobs than the other 49 states combined. I’m suggesting we know how to create jobs. Ronald Reagan did it. I was part of that. We know how to create jobs. We did it when I was speaker. And, and the way you create jobs is you have lower taxes, you have less regulation, you have litigation reform. When the New York Stock Exchange puts its headquarters at Amsterdam, Holland and, by the way, follows 40 other companies in the last year; when General Electric pays zero in taxes; there’s something fundamentally wrong with the current system. The Obama system of the National Labor Relations Board basically breaking the law to try to punish Boeing and to threaten every right-to-work state. The Environmental Protection Agency trying to control the entire American economy by bureaucratic fiat. The Obama system’s going to lead us down the path to Detroit and destruction. I think we need a brand-new path. It’s a path of job creation. And one of the central themes of this campaign is going to be paychecks vs. food stamps.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me ask you about another hot-button issue in the Republican primary, of course, and that’s health care. Mitt Romney having to defend his proponent–that he was a proponent of universal health care in Massachusetts, and specifically around this idea of the individual mandate where you make Americans buy insurance if they don’t have it. Now, I know you’ve got big difference with what you call Obamacare. But back in 1993 on this program this is what you said about the individual mandate. Watch.
(Videotape, October 3, 1993)
REP. GINGRICH: I am for people, individuals–exactly like automobile insurance–individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance. And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.
MR. GREGORY: What you advocate there is precisely what President Obama did with his healthcare legislation, is it not?
REP. GINGRICH: No, it’s not precisely what he did. In, in the first place, Obama basically is trying to replace the entire insurance system, creating state exchanges, building a Washington-based model, creating a federal system. I believe all of us–and this is going to be a big debate–I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care. I think the idea that…
MR. GREGORY: You agree with Mitt Romney on this point.
REP. GINGRICH: Well, I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay–help pay for health care. And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond…
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. GINGRICH: …or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.
MR. GREGORY: But that is the individual mandate, is it not?
REP. GINGRICH: It’s a variation on it.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
REP. GINGRICH: But it’s a system…
MR. GREGORY: And so you won’t use that issue against Mitt Romney.
REP. GINGRICH: No. But it’s a system which allows people to have a range of choices which are designed by the economy. But I think setting the precedent–you know, there are an amazing number of people who think that they ought to be given health care. And, and so a large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year, don’t buy any health insurance because they want to buy a second house or a better car or go on vacation. And then you and I and everybody else ends up picking up for them. I don’t think having a free rider system in health is any more appropriate than having a free rider system in any other part of our society.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the U.S. role in the world. We’re still digesting the intelligence that’s coming out of the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. You said back in February, “Any honest assessment on 9/11 this year, 10 years after the attack, would have to lead to the conclusion that we are simply and slowly losing the war.” Do you still feel we’re losing the war against terror?
REP. GINGRICH: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think…
MR. GREGORY: Even after bin Laden?
REP. GINGRICH: …the thing–sure, look at what we’ve learned about bin Laden. We’ve learned that for nine and a half years the country, Pakistan, to which we have given $20 billion was apparently hiding him. Now, does any serious person believe that the Pakistani government had no idea bin Laden was sitting there? Does anybody–and notice, by the way, what the intelligence chief has apologized for. He’s apologized for the Americans getting bin Laden. He didn’t apologize for nine and a half years of failing to find him. He didn’t apologize for Pakistan having failed to do its duty. And who did the–who did the Pakistanis call the minute the American covert helicopter was shot down? They called the Chinese. Now, I would just suggest to you, we need to rethink carefully what do we mean by the word, “ally.”
MR. GREGORY: Well so, what does it mean? Would you cut off foreign aid to Pakistan right now?
REP. GINGRICH: I would look very seriously at the whole relationship. But I, I, I believe something much deeper. I think this conflict with radical Islamists is so much more profound and is going to last so much longer that we had better be thinking about very different strategies. I, I don’t know that a simple boots-on-the-ground and violence from predators model–this is not a comment on President Obama. I think the, the whole system, including in the Bush administration, has underestimated the depth of the problem and, and the level of the, of the challenge that we face.
MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to another area that has earned you criticism, and that is questions about your temperament, given things that you have said during the long career in, in the public arena where people question your motivation. Once such comment was made in September of last year. You were talking about the president. I’ll put it up on the screen.
“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior. … This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”
Now somebody like you has this reputation for such an intellect to make statement like that sounds either ill-informed or, at worst, bigoted. What’s the basis for making a comment like that?
REP. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, that comment was made in reference to a book by Dinesh D’Souza who’s a first generation American from India, who wrote a very interesting book arguing away a thing about Obama. So it was in the context of a discussion about a book written by an American first generation immigrant who says, “Gosh, from my perspective here’s a way of thinking about the president.” Second, I think it’s fair to say that I’m going to have–one of the tests on this campaign trail is going to be whether I have the discipline and the judgment to be president. I think that’s a perfectly fair question.
MR. GREGORY: Is this a fair example–in other words, this notion that somehow Obama’s anti-American, that he is not on America’s team, that he doesn’t love America, are you prepared to say right now to say both on behalf of yourself and to other Republicans out there that this is nonsense, we ought to put this to rest?
REP. GINGRICH: Well, look, I think he loves America. But I think he has a very different vision of what America is.
MR. GREGORY: And what is that?
REP. GINGRICH: I think it’s a–well, for example, he gives a speech to the National Defense University on Libya in which he cites the United Nations and the Arab League eight times and the U.S. Congress once. Now, I just think there’s a little bit of imbalance there.
MR. GREGORY: You don’t think he believes in American exceptionalism?
REP. GINGRICH: I don’t. I’m fairly confident if you look at the–now, he’s learned recently how to say it.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
REP. GINGRICH: But if you go back and look at the first two years of his presidency, it was a real change, a real…
MR. GREGORY: All right.
REP. GINGRICH: But here–let me talk about me for a second, not about President Obama.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
REP. GINGRICH: One of my great weaknesses is that part of me is a teacher analyst. And part of me is a political leader. And I’ve–one of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn, and I haven’t fully learned it obviously, is that if you seek to be the president of the United States, you are never an analyst, you know, you’re never a college teacher because those folks can say what they want to say. And somebody who offers to lead America has to be much more disciplined and, and much more thoughtful than an analyst. Analysts can say anything they want to because there’s no downside. But the person to whom you’re entrusting the leadership of the United States had better think long and hard before they say things. I think that’s a fair criticism of me.
MR. GREGORY: Let’s talk about the campaign and your role in the campaign. You said back in 1996 that you’re not a natural leader, that you’re more of an intellectual gadfly. And yet here you are running for the presidency. Is that your role in this campaign, to be an ideas guy…
REP. GINGRICH: No.
MR. GREGORY: …to force the issue or to actually win?
REP. GINGRICH: That’s a very fair question. And all I can tell you is that I’ve now spent 15 years trying to grow from gadfly to proposer of very serious, very fundamental policy change. And one of the real parts of this campaign will be the process of going to the American people, starting tomorrow in Iowa, talking about the things you and I are talking about. What do we do to get people back to work? What do we do to get back to a balanced budget? How do we enforce the 10th Amendment and move power out of Washington? These are huge undertakings. And my job is to gather together really bright people, listen to them carefully, and develop over time a series of proposals around which I think America, not just Newt Gingrich, but America, should stake its future.
MR. GREGORY: You look at the field that’s starting to take shape on the Republican side–and we’ll put the, the current polling on the board–Mike Huckabee is now not running. He was high up there. Donald Trump. You were there at 10 percent. And our latest poll still indicates that you’ve still got high negatives. There’s still a high unfavorable rating. Some of that, Mr. Speaker, has to do with your own personal life, the fact that you’ve been married three times, you had extramarital affairs, one of–during which the time that Republicans were pursuing President Clinton for impeachment that earned you the label of being a hypocrite. And I wonder how you’re going to deal with this, particularly when social conservatives, like Tom Coburn, senator from Oklahoma, has said the following about you. And I’ll put it up on the screen. This was from last summer. Senator Coburn “made it clear that he won’t be on Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential bandwagon.
“Gingrich `is a super-smart man, but he doesn’t know anything about commitment to marriage,’ he said of the thrice-married former House speaker. `He’s the last person I’d vote for, for president of the United States. His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president.’”
REP. GINGRICH: Well, all I can say to every American, and every American has the right to ask these questions, is that I have made mistakes in my life. I have had to go to God for forgiveness and to seek reconciliation. And I’d ask them to look at who I am today, look at the strong marriage that Callista and I have, look at the close relationship I have with my two daughters and their husbands, look at the loving relationship we have with our grandchildren, and decide whether or not I am today a person that they believe could lead the country and could save us in a period of, of enormous problems. I think the problems we face require a leader with the courage to take the heat and to try to bring together millions of people so that collectively we can get this country back on the right track.
MR. GREGORY: But before you get there, it becomes an electability issue. You’ve said–one of the things you’ve said is that you’ve matured. But you were 55 years old at the time these things were going on, hardly a young man. And at the same time, just this year, you’ve talked about what was going on in your life at the time. This is what you told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
(Videotape, March 8, 2011)
REP. GINGRICH: There’s no question that at times of my life, partially driven by, by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate.
MR. GREGORY: Do people–should they be expected to take that as a serious act of contrition?
REP. GINGRICH: No.
MR. GREGORY: That you were so patriotic and so passionate that you cheated on your wife?
REP. GINGRICH: No. David, and that, that’s 15 seconds out of what I think was a 20-something minute interview. I have said–I’ll repeat what I said to you a minute ago. I clearly have done things that were wrong. I’ve clearly had to seek God’s forgiveness. I’ve seen–I believe people have to decide whether or not what I’ve said and what I’ve done is real. And I think that if people watch me and talk with me and get to know me, my hope is it’ll–the majority of Americans will decide that I can help this country get back on track in a way that no one else can. And if they decide that that’s true, then I think we will have a very successful campaign. But people have every right to ask the tough questions and to measure somebody personally.
MR. GREGORY: You understand people, particularly conservative Republicans saying…
REP. GINGRICH: Absolutely. Yes.
MR. GREGORY: …”This is not a guy I can support.”
REP. GINGRICH: I, I understand people questioning. And then we’ll see whether or not, over time, they decide I’m somebody they can support or whether, as many people say to me, that as they get to know me and as they listen to what I’m doing and they watch how I operate and they watch what I’m doing, they say, “You know, I really do think you can help America, and we’re going to help you.” I have a large number of social conservatives who support me because, as we’ve talked this through, they’ve reached a different conclusion about what America needs and what I can bring in trying to fill that role of leader.
MR. GREGORY: What about taxes? Also important to conservatives. There are reports about your businesses having unpaid taxes. Can that be resolved?
REP. GINGRICH: Look. I–they’re all–every single thing in that report had already been resolved. We run four businesses. Over 12 years we’ve paid millions of dollars in taxes. There were, I think, four or five places where, largely because stuff got lost in the mail coming to us, we didn’t even know we had the liens. And several of the cases, when we called, the liens didn’t even exist. All of that’s taken care of. I think the total amount was $6,000 over a 12-year period.
MR. GREGORY: What about Mike Huckabee? Do his voters go to you? Will you be working for him?
REP. GINGRICH: Look, his voters are very independent, and they’re going to go where they believe that America needs to go both on conservative and spiritual values. Huckabee–Governor Huckabee is going to remain a very important figure in the conservative moment, and I suspect that, that he is going to have a role to play for many years to come.
MR. GREGORY: In the conservative moment, there is, of course, a celebration of Ronald Reagan. And a lot of candidates, you–try to grab that mantle of Reagan. Back on this program in 1990, you said some interesting things about Reagan. I want to show them.
(Videotape, July 29, 1990)
REP. GINGRICH: First of all, Ronald Reagan did a lot of things that conservatives didn’t like. And I think it’s a little bit much to go back and say that was Camelot, that that was an era of pure conservatism. George Bush isn’t as good as Reagan was at making speeches on the right while governing in the center, but the fact is, that’s what Ronald Reagan did.
MR. GREGORY: Is that a model for President Gingrich? Run on the right, govern from the center?
REP. GINGRICH: Well, Ronald Reagan ran a very broad center right platform. Ronald Reagan ran on defeating the Soviet empire. He and I agreed totally on cutting taxes, and I helped pass the three tax cuts. Callista and I have done a movie, “Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny.” I just spoke yesterday at Eureka College, his alma mater, at–in the commencement. He is an extraordinary man. But there is a lot to learn from him. You were mentioning earlier about the debt ceiling fight. Reagan had a pretty firm rule of get 80 percent and keep moving. Don’t go for 100 percent.
MR. GREGORY: Is that how you would approach it? Try to govern from the center?
REP. GINGRICH: I–the center right. I think it–I don’t think that people on the left would be very happy, but I’ve always said publicly, and Reagan believed this, you can’t have a hard right presidency succeed because the country, there’s a center-right majority that will isolate the left. There’s not a right wing majority in this country. But clearly Reagan was a great conservative overall, and I think that my record is pretty extraordinarily conservative in the same tradition.
MR. GREGORY: Who’s the front-runner right now on the Republican side?
REP. GINGRICH: Oh, I suspect Governor Romney is just because of the scale of the money he has and the amount he can raise. But, candidly, since Governor Huntsman probably has equal amount of money, he may be in. If Donald Trump comes in, he has, he has…
MR. GREGORY: Is he a serious candidate? Is Trump a serious candidate?
REP. GINGRICH: Who knows? I mean, this is a free society, and anybody who wants to can come play. All three of them are capable of providing enough money on their own that they’re very formidable candidates.
MR. GREGORY: Would you entertain being on the ticket as a number two if it came to that?
REP. GINGRICH: David, I want you to ask yourself, can you imagine any presidential nominee who would pick me to be the vice presidential candidate?
MR. GREGORY: But would you entertain it? Would that be a no?
REP. GINGRICH: Nobody–as Reagan said in ’76 when he was hoping Ford would not ask him, nobody could automatically say no to the president of the United States. But it strikes me as so implausible, I’m not–Callista and I will not spend long hours worrying about that question.
MR. GREGORY: And the debate goes on. Speaker Gingrich, thank you very much.
REP. GINGRICH: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it.