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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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Speaker Gingrich, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: It's good to be with you. I'm delighted.

MR. GREGORY: Let's, let's start there because you laid it out this week. You said there's one way to stop Romney in South Carolina, this is what you said to Fox News.

(Videotape, Thursday)

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: If we consolidate conservatives, we could beat Romney by a big margin.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: We've heard from social conservatives in Texas, they're saying let's get behind Rick Santorum. Do you feel pressure to consolidate behind Santorum?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well...

MR. GREGORY: Perhaps get out of the race?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I think that report was very highly exaggerated. We basically split that group. I got a very good number of votes and I think as of noon today that Reverend Jim Garlow and Congressman J.C. Watts and others who were there are going to be talking and I think they'll indicate that I have very strong support from Christian conservatives and social conservatives and that that support continues. There was an agreement, the one consensus was that virtually no one was for Mitt Romney. But in fact, there was a very strong Santorum group and there was a very strong Gingrich group at that particular meeting, and the Gingrich folks are still very much for me and they'll be speaking up starting at about noon today.

MR. GREGORY: But isn't this the issue? I mean, if you just look at the raw numbers here and look at the politics, there's not one alternative to Mitt Romney. There's several of you who are vying for that evangelical vote down in South Carolina. We've seen this movie before, four years ago. Doesn't that help Romney?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Sure. Well, it does--it does help him. And I think the only way that a Massachusetts moderate can get through South Carolina is if the vote is split. But we have six days to make our case to people and I think somebody who generally people agree was the best debater so far, I think I have the best chance to beat Obama. I think I also have the like--the greatest likelihood given the past to actually change Washington. And as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, I have the boldest and most aggressive pro-jobs plan, as well as a record working with Reagan and working as speaker with Bill Clinton of actually having created large numbers of jobs. So we're going to be making our case to national security conservatives, social conservatives and economic conservatives that this--that Newt Gingrich is the best candidate to defeat President Obama. And I think we're doing pretty darn well down here.

MR. GREGORY: So your feeling is that despite what the social conservative group said over the weekend, Rick Santorum doesn't have any more momentum here? He's not the obvious conservative alternative choice to Romney?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. I think the fact is if you look at the actual vote yesterday that we were very close in the vote and that, in fact, the folks who'll be speaking out starting at noon today, Congressman J.C. Watts, Reverend Jim Garlow and others, are very committed to my candidacy and I think we will go into the next week, this last week of the campaign with a large amount of momentum here. The polls have all shown consistently that I am the strongest rival to Romney in South Carolina and I think that the debate tomorrow night will be a very important part of that and the debate Thursday night will be a very important part of that. And I think it's going to be a very, very lively week, one of the most important weeks in the history of the GOP because I think nominating somebody who is essentially a Massachusetts moderate makes it much harder to defeat President Obama and nominating somebody who is a Reagan conservative makes it much easier to defeat President Obama.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let me pick up on that point because this has been your charge. You talk about lively, I think about the debate last Sunday, which was fairly lively between all of you. And this is one of the charges you made against Romney. Let me play it.

(Videotape, last Sunday)

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I think that a bold Reagan conservative with a very strong economic plan is a lot more likely to succeed in that campaign than a relatively timid Massachusetts moderate.

MR. GREGORY: Speaker, this is your flier that you're circulating...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Right.

MR. GREGORY: ...here in New Hampshire. It says very clearly Romney is not electable.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I think he will have a very hard time getting re-elected--getting elected.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: But then let's look at how conservatives in New Hampshire actually voted having heard that pitch from you. These were some of the exit polling, 42 percent of conservatives voted for Romney, only 14 percent for you. And then how about this from the exit poll, among those whether they'd be satisfied or dissatisfied, 63 percent said they'd be dissatisfied with you. These are conservatives in New Hampshire where they actually are voting. How do you respond to that?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I respond to it that Governor Romney governed next door for four years. Before that, ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, bought a house in New Hampshire and lived in New Hampshire for years. I--that was his third best state in the country after Utah and Massachusetts, so it shouldn't be very surprising that in his stronghold he did, he did adequately. He did--wasn't overwhelming but he was adequate.

MR. GREGORY: Well, but wait a second.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And the question is, when you think about the whole country--go ahead.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's just wait a second, though, because if this is the place where they know him best and he was a timid moderate Republican governor, don't you think that Republicans, conservatives in New Hampshire would know that best?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I think, I think that when you come to South Carolina and you learn, for example, that he favored gun control and raised the tax on guns 400 percent, that has a real impact in South Carolina and I think people in South Carolina are strongly for the Second Amendment, as I am, and that's a real contrast. I think, you know, again, when Paul Tsongas got about exactly the same vote in, in New Hampshire that Governor Romney did, it was considered a defeat and Bill Clinton was called the comeback kid, even though he lost. So I think you have to look at regional characteristics. When you think about a national campaign, you think about debating Barack Obama this fall, and just ask yourself a simple question: Is it better to draw a bold, clear line between a Reagan conservative and the most liberal president in our history, or is it better to have somebody who in many ways, Romneycare vs. Obamacare, tax increases in Massachusetts, 47th worst record of creating jobs in Massachusetts, I think it's much harder for Romney to draw a sharp contrast than it would be for me.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about your own candidacy. You were here eight months ago back in May and after that appearance when you criticized the Medicare reform plan from Paul Ryan, it looked like you were over before you started. And then you came back. And you said six weeks ago that hey, odds are I'm going to be the nominee. And then you went down again. How do you explain the ups and downs in your campaign?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I think, I think in this--look, in the summer, I was surprised at the intensity of the Washington establishment attacks and the number of different people who, you know, said Gingrich is dead, Gingrich is gone. I calmly, steadily kept having positive ideas, as you know, and having positive ideas by early December, the Gallup poll had me up by something like 12 or 15 points over Governor Romney nationally. Then, you know, the Romney campaign understood reality and they decided they'd throw $3 1/2 million of negative ads in Iowa. I did not respond. I spent three solid weeks saying I thought the negative ads were wrong. I thought it was a very bad tactic. I thought it was bad for the country. And, and as a result, we slid from a very strong first to coming in fourth. We've revamped the campaign, we've accepted the reality that you either unilaterally disarm and get out of the race or you have to have some ability to match the level of negativity that Governor Romney's campaign engages in. And I think if you look at what's happening right now in South Carolina, we're prepared to define this race between a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate with great clarity and I think the result has been to really dramatically slow down his progress and to have a lot of people raising questions about whether or not Governor Romney really could withstand a campaign this fall and really could stand up to Barack Obama in debates.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about going negative. Again, the debate on MEET THE PRESS last Sunday, you previewed what is a film against Romney's time as head of Bain Capital, the venture capitalist firm, a film that has been unveiled by your super PAC, which is run by a former top adviser to you. And this is how you previewed it last Sunday.

(Videotape, last Sunday)

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: When the 27-and-a-half-minute movie comes out, I hope it's accurate. I will, I, I, I can say publicly I hope that the super PAC runs an accurate movie about Bain. It will be based on establishment newspapers, like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Barron's, Bloomberg News, and I hope that it's totally accurate and that people can watch the 27 and a half minutes of his career at Bain and decide for themselves.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: So I'm not going to play all 27 minutes, but if there was a topic sentence from the film, I think it would be this.

(Videotape from Gingrich campaign ad)

Narrator: A group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney. The company was Bain Capital, more ruthless than Wall Street.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: The film is not accurate, is it?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, there are some flaws in the film and I promptly said, you know, this is the difference between Governor Romney and me. When The Washington Post said Governor Romney's super PAC in a 30-second commercial was wrong on four different counts, he didn't do anything about it. When The Washington Post said something similar about a 27-and-a-half-minute film, I promptly said I hope that they will edit it. I hope they'll make it accurate and I hope they won't show the film without being edited. And I--and let me say that although all this is out in the open because you cannot communicate privately with these under the law, I've, I've said that publicly and as I understand it, according to the newspaper reports, Rick Tyler has said he's very prepared to edit the film and he's, I think, submitted five questions to Governor Romney's campaign to get accuracy and clarity to edit the film. So it's a--I, I think if we're going to have these kind of super PACs, there should be some real effort to make them accurate.

MR. GREGORY: But...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And while you may have tough ads, the tough ads ought to be factual.

MR. GREGORY: So you think it should stay up? It shouldn't be pulled down completely?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. I think it should be edited so it's accurate. As long as it's accurate, I think that that's a question, that's a question, frankly...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...that they should decide once they make it accurate. I would oppose it being run if it's inaccurate, and I think that ought to be a reasonable standard. I wish Governor Romney would apply the same standard and publicly call on his PAC. They have four mistakes in the 30-second commercial. You know how hard it is and how deliberately negative it is to have four mistakes in a 30-second commercial?

MR. GREGORY: But it's, it's kind of easy, isn't it, after the cat's out of the bag, the film has been run, there's been all this publicity, it's sort of easy to say, "Well, no, I think they ought to edit those things out." I mean, how do you, how do you unring the bell? You got all the benefit of that negativity, didn't you?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I--look, I think first of the questions that are being raised are real. They're being raised by a lot more folks than Newt Gingrich, and I think Governor Romney ought to answer the questions. You'll notice, by the way, that he'd been saying for months that he'd created 100,000 jobs in the private sector. This last week he got three Pinocchios in The Washington Post on that, and he has since, I believe, dropped the claim and is now down to saying thousands of jobs, not 100,000 jobs. So this is part of the sorting out process of a campaign. I'm very--I, I've tried very hard to be very precise in descriptions of things about the governor's record and, and about my own record. You know, I worked with Reagan. We helped create 16 million new jobs. I worked with Bill Clinton as speaker of the House. We helped create 11 million new jobs. Those are pretty substantial things that are factually verifiable by people who want to see what the campaign is doing.

MR. GREGORY: Well, you've talked about that there should be more facts, there should be more records. There have been questions about whether Governor Romney should release his, his tax records in terms of how he profited over the years. Is that part of what you'd like to see now?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I'm, I'm not going to--he's got to make his own decision. President Obama's releasing his records. This coming Thursday I will release my income tax records. Callista and I have discussed it, we agree this is part of the process of the American people having trust in the candidates. I think Governor Romney, if he plans to, to stay in the race, ought to plan to release his records because he'll never get through the fall without releasing his records, and it's better to do it in the primary season so the country understands what's going on and not wait and be surprised in September. And I, I think it's the right thing to do, and we--we will--we're going to work right now. We have our folks working to be able to release our records on Thursday...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...so people in South Carolina will see the record.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think Governor Romney's hiding something?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I have no idea. You're the reporter, I'll let you decide that. I know that the country deserves accountability and they deserve transparency, and that these are big issues and they're not issues you can hide from. I'm going to try to set the example to provide leadership to do the right thing, and then Governor Romney's got to decide what he's going to do. That, that's his decision, and I'll let you determine why he makes the decision.

MR. GREGORY: Let me pin you down on this point. Going back to the film, it said that Bain Capital, which was run by Governor Romney, was more ruthless than Wall Street. So let's be very clear here. Are you suggesting that what Bain did as venture capitalists on behalf of investors, including pension funds for working people, firefighters and the like, was equivalent to say what AIG did in coming up with complex financial instruments that ultimately led to financial collapse or subprime lenders? Are you suggesting that that's equivalence in how ruthless they were?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: All I'm saying is there's an article, I believe it's in The Washington Post this morning, in which somebody who was an investor and, and a dealmaker, says flatly he got to a point where he would not deal with them, he would not work with them and so forth. I recommend you read his article. I'm, you know, I'm not an expert in this kind of financial stuff, but I do think if you're going to run for president and if you're going to base a large part of your claim on your business experience, then you have to have some expectation of people asking you, you know, to open up the books and prove it. You can't just run for president on claims. You have to have an actual experience. Because my life has been so much in the public sector, you know, if, if I say I worked with, with Ronald Reagan to develop a jobs plan, that's demonstrable. If I say that I worked with, with, with President Clinton and we actually reformed welfare, cut taxes, unemployment came down to 4.2 percent, we balanced the budget for four straight years, that's demonstrable. That's all out in the open.

MR. GREGORY: But you...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Governor Romney ought to meet the same test of being out in the open.

MR. GREGORY: But besides referring to articles that have been written about this, you believe Governor Romney is a good businessman and has been a good businessman, don't you?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Sure. I think he's a very tough, very smart businessman. But that's not--the question isn't should he be, should he be businessman of the year. The question is, what is his character, what was his judgment, how does that relate to being president, and are there legitimate questions that can be asked that ought to be answered for somebody who wants to be president? That's a much different standard than just, you know, hiring somebody to run a business. It's a question about how you approach people, how you approach circumstances, what values you bring to bear, and those are legitimate questions for all of us if we're going to run for president. And people should know it before they vote because the presidency is such a central position in our society that you want to know what, what does this person think, what are they doing, and what values would they bring to the Oval Office. And I think those are totally legitimate questions.

MR. GREGORY: But The Wall Street Journal, among many other conservative both commentators, conservative politicians and others, they wrote this, they editorialized this, "The Bain Capital Bonfire. Bain's business model is little more than `rich people figuring out clever ways to loot a company,' says Newt Gingrich. Politics isn't subtle," the editorial says. "And these candidates are desperate, but do they have to sound like Michael Moore?" Are you comfortable, Speaker Gingrich, being cast as the Michael Moore of this Republican primary?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Look, I am totally committed to free enterprise. I am particularly committed to small businesses, to entrepreneurs, to start-ups. I'm committed to people who, in fact, work very hard to save companies. I used to be on an advisory board with Teddy Forstmann. When Teddy Forstmann was faced with a crisis at Gulfstream, he went out and raised and extra billion dollars and went down there personally, took over the company, turned it around, saved it, saved the jobs and made the preeminent corporate airplane in the world made in Savannah, Georgia, because he was--those, those were his values. That was his level of commitment to try and to make sure that that company could succeed. So I'm very much for entrepreneurial capitalism and for free enterprise. I'm particularly for it as it relates to small businesses and to Main Street. But I think that to say that raising a question about a particular company and a particular style for somebody who wants to run for president suddenly gets turned into a class action is, is foolishness. This is about one man who ran for office on a commitment about, about his own career. And the minute you start questioning that career, all of a sudden people throw up all the smoke screen. All he's got to do is talk about his career. This is about somebody who wants to be president.

MR. GREGORY: OK.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And that's a matter of values, character and behavior.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: If you lose in South Carolina, do you have to get out of the race?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, you certainly have to reassess it, but frankly I think we're going to win here, and I think we, we're increasingly consolidating, and I'm very excited by the next seven days. And we have a lot of stuff planned all over the state, and I think it's going to be a very, very exciting campaign.

MR. GREGORY: I don't, I don't mean to dampen your own expectations, but if Romney does win, is it over? Is he the nominee?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, sure. Look, look, if Romney wins here, he has an enormous advantage going forward, which is why I think it's important for every conservative who wants to have a conservative nominee to rally around. And, and I am the one person who has a realistic chance of defeating him here, and I hope every conservative will reach the conclusion that to vote for anybody but Gingrich is, in fact, to help Romney win the nomination and to help him win the primary in South Carolina. That--I think that's the heart of the, of the message for the next six days.

MR. GREGORY: All right, before I let you go, I have to ask you something that is both funny and ridiculous about politics. Here is a portion of a Web ad that you've got up in South Carolina against Mitt Romney. I'll play a portion.

(Videotape from Gingrich campaign ad)

Narrator: And just like John Kerry...

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Laissez les bon temps roulez.

Narrator: ...he speaks French, too.

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Bonjour. Je m'appelle Mitt Romney.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: This obsession with the French, Speaker Gingrich. So if Mitt Romney speaks French, then voters in South Carolina should conclude what?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. That whole ad was designed to take Dukakis, Barney Frank, John Kerry and Mitt Romney and say, "Look, this is what Massachusetts is like." Mitt Romney as governor governed like a Massachusetts politician. He, he--he's much closer to Dukakis and Kerry than he is to Ronald Reagan. And the whole purpose of that--and frankly, you just proved the point of putting that in, it was funny, more people have--that, that Web ad has gone viral because people think it's funny and I rest the case--as Herman Cain used to say, "It's nice to have a sense of humor," and that whole ad was about having a sense of humor and getting people to show it as you just did.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, just, just to be clear, though, as, as somebody who lived two years in France as you did, you don't have a problem with anybody knowing or speaking French...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: OK.

MR. GREGORY: ...especially when they were a missionary in, in France, which is what Romney was.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Look, first of all, I lived in France as a child, I, I did my dissertation in Belgium. I am, I am perfectly happy to have people speak many languages. But I do--you have to confess, when you look at the whole ad, it does work and it just kind of comes together perfectly and, and ties Romney back to Dukakis and to Kerry and that's the whole point of the ad.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Speaker Gingrich, good luck on the trail. We'll be watching you.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Thank you. See you soon.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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