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ABC "This Week" - Transcript

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TAPPER: The pizza man knows about the sausage grinder. And the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times released a new poll of the race. Mitt Romney has opened up his lead over Newt Gingrich into double-digits, 42 percent to 31 percent, while Rick Santorum trails at 14 percent, Ron Paul bringing up the rear at 6 percent.

This intensely competitive race is where we begin the show this morning. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich joins us from the Tampa area.

Mr. Speaker, welcome. Thanks for being here.

GINGRICH: It's great to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: So as we pointed out, last night, you held that rally in which you received the endorsement of the Hermanator, Herman Cain, but around the same time that poll was coming out indicating that, even though at one point in Florida you were neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney, he seems to have opened up his lead. Why do you think your poll numbers in Florida have collapsed?

GINGRICH: Well, I think that they haven't quite collapsed. And the fact is, when you combine the Santorum vote and the Gingrich vote, we clearly are -- the conservative combined would clearly beat Romney.

I think he's run a relentlessly negative campaign. Negative ads have an impact. We have not been as effective in telling the truth as he has been in running ads, some of which have had to be pulled because they were so inaccurate.

But the fact is, this race is going to go on. The conservatives clearly are rejecting Romney. He is nowhere near getting a majority. And the fact is, once you get beyond Florida, these are all proportional representation states, and he's not going to be anywhere near a majority by April.

And so this is going to go on all the way to the convention. I think clearly the conservatives and the grassroots are increasingly angry about the way in which the Washington establishment has rallied in many ways with complete dishonesty, as Rush Limbaugh pointed out the other day. Some of the articles, some of the attacks on me have been breathtakingly dishonest. And I think as that deepens, the conservatives are going to come together and decide they do not want a Massachusetts liberal to be the Republican nominee.

TAPPER: I want to follow up on two items you just said there. First of all, I'd like to get some clarification. Yesterday and this morning, you said you'll go all the way to the convention. You obviously expect to win the nomination. But are you saying you're going to stay in the race no matter what, even if someone else amasses more delegates than you? Or are you just -- is this just more rah-rah, that you're going to win, you're going to go to the convention?

GINGRICH: Well, I'm saying, first of all, that there's no evidence anywhere that Romney's getting anywhere near 50 percent. Gradually, conservatives are consolidating. I was very grateful to have Governor Rick Perry's endorsement. I was very grateful last night to have Herman Cain's endorsement. Governor Sarah Palin's comments have been very helpful. Todd Palin's endorsement has been helpful. Monday, Mike Reagan is going to be campaigning with me here. Fred Thompson has endorsed me.

So as you look around, you see an awful lot of grassroots conservatives coming together. Rudy Giuliani made some very strong statements yesterday, pointing out that I am much more the Reagan conservative and that Mitt Romney is not a conservative.

So I think you're going to see a continued movement that basically says -- I mean, we're down basically to the fewer conservatives there are, the better we're doing. The clearer the debate gets, the more obvious it is that you've got a -- look, you have a governor of Massachusetts who was pro-abortion, he was pro-tax increase, he was pro-gun control. He can't even remember his own voting record. The debate the other night, what he said was just plain false. He voted for a Democrat in 1992, the most liberal Democrat. He gave money to Democrats. He was never part of the Reagan movement, never part of conservativism in America.

As that becomes clearer, I think that he's not going to get the nomination. And my hope is that gradually conservatives will come together and decide that a Newt Gingrich conservativism is dramatically better than Mitt Romney's liberalism.

TAPPER: In many ways, you are where you are because of your debate performances. Last week, you had a couple that were not your strongest, to say the least.

GINGRICH: Yep.

TAPPER: Why do you think that was? What happened?

GINGRICH: I was amazed. I mean, I'm standing next to a guy who is the most blatantly dishonest answers I can remember in any presidential race in -- in my lifetime. And I've seen, I think, every presidential debate -- presidential campaign debate or virtually every one. And, you know, he would say things that were just plain not true.

Look, it's a little bit like yesterday's L.A. Times report. I mean, we now have found 23 foreign accounts he never reported until he released his taxes. He would say -- he would say thing after thing after thing that just plain wasn't true.

And I had -- I don't know how you debate a person with civility if they're prepared to say things that are just plain factually false. And that's going to become a key part of this. I think the Republican establishment believes it's OK to say and do virtually anything to stop a genuine insurgency from winning because they are very afraid of losing control of the old order.

We tried a moderate in 1996 for president. He lost. We tried a moderate in 2008 for president. He lost. It's very hard to take Romneycare and Obamacare and have a debate and have the Republican win that debate. You need to have a conservative who is a very big distance away from Obama, because you've got to have the space so that, in fact, you can communicate with the American people.

TAPPER: I want to follow up on some of these comments you're making about Mitt Romney. The race has taken something of a nasty turn. Here's an ad that you are currently running in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): What kind of man would mislead, distort and deceive just to win an election? This man would, Mitt Romney. If we can't trust what Mitt Romney says about his own record, how can we trust him on anything?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It sounds as if you're saying in that ad, and here this morning, that Mitt Romney is unfit and does not have the character to be president.

GINGRICH: I am saying that he would not be where he is today, the debates this week wouldn't have been where they were, if he had told the truth. And I think that's a very serious problem for somebody. I think that you look at -- again, he's supposedly a great manager, yet he can't explain 23 different foreign accounts that weren't reported. He's a great manager. He can't explain being on the board of directors of the company which got the largest Medicare fine in history for fraud?

Somehow, every time it's bad, he didn't know about it or he wasn't aware about it. He didn't really understand the Planned Parenthood by law, the largest abortion provider in the United States, is in Romneycare? Romneycare literally defines Planned Parenthood in a key -- in a part of the bill. He didn't seem to quite know it.

Every time you turn around, this great manager consistently doesn't understand whatever it is that would have hurt him. And you just have to look back and say, why can't you be candid with the American people? You cannot be president of the United States if you cannot be honest and candid with the American people. And that's compounded, frankly, by a number of the ads he runs, which are just plain false.

TAPPER: So you're saying that he does not have the character to be president of the United States, because he's, in your view, not honest.

GINGRICH: I'm saying it is a very -- it's a -- it is a very serious problem when you have somebody who on item after item after item -- I mean, the clip you had just now, he knows what he said in that clip is not true. I did not resign in disgrace. I did not pay a fine. And, in fact, CNN ran an entire piece recently in which they pointed out that on every single substantive count in the ethics investigation, every single one, that I was vindicated, including vindication by a federal judge, vindication by the Internal Revenue Service, vindication by the Federal Elections Commission. Now, Romney knows that.

TAPPER: Well, the clip -- the clip...

GINGRICH: So he's run a campaign of vilification.

TAPPER: The clip I just played was actually one of your ads, but let's get to that Romney ad that you're talking about...

GINGRICH: No, no, but I'm talking about the earlier -- I'm talking about -- I'm talking about the clip you showed of him campaigning yesterday.

TAPPER: Oh, OK.

GINGRICH: What he said yesterday, this wasn't true.

TAPPER: There...

GINGRICH: And so at some point, I don't quite -- I don't quite -- to be honest, Jake, I don't quite know how you deal with an opponent, because you want to deal with them with civility, you want to deal with them in a positive way. I want to talk about big issues.

I talked about space this week, which I think is important for the country's future. I talked about housing. I talked about creating jobs. I talked about the record I had working with Ronald Reagan to create jobs and the record I had working with Bill Clinton to create jobs. We talked about welfare reform as the first great entitlement reform.

There are all sorts of positive things. We have a proposal on Social Security which would allow every young American the option of having a personal Social Security account on the model of Galveston, Texas, and the country of Chile. So there are a lot of positive things.

And if you'll notice, when you get outside the zone where Romney carpet-bombs with Wall Street money, and you look at what's happening in the rest of the country, I'm ahead in all three national polls that were released this week. I'm ahead by a big margin, because when you come to positive ideas, I represent real change in Washington, I represent unleashing the spirit of the American people to get us back as a country, rebuilding the country we love. And when we get to a positive idea campaign, I consistently win.

It's only when he can mass money to focus on carpet-bombing with negative ads that he gains any traction at all.

TAPPER: Let's talk about one of those big ideas. You in Florida gave a big policy speech in which you called for a colony on the moon by the end of your second term. As you know, that speech has become fodder for some late-night comedians. Here's Jon Stewart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART: A moon base? Your solution to being accused of grandiosity is "Give me eight years and I'll have a (bleep) moon base"? What did you -- did you start with Death Star and you got kind of reined in?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK, and on a more serious note, here's Mitt Romney at the debate responding to that idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, "You're fired."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I wanted to give you -- I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to the criticism. This is a side of you, that grandiosity that Rick Santorum referred to you, that does make some Republicans uneasy, people who want to support you but who think that you open yourself up to ridicule with ideas like this. Do you have any response to the criticism?

GINGRICH: Sure. First of all, Greta Van Susteren I thought had the most interesting insight. She said, you know, in 1961, when John F. Kennedy offered a similarly big, bold idea, there was remarkably less skepticism, remarkably less doubt, remarkably less rejection. And she raised the question, what does it say about the culture of our elites that somebody who wants to get America moving again, somebody who wants to do something big and bold, somehow they can't quite imagine breaking out of the timidity and the decay?

You know, Romney's run for six years, and his message on the Space Coast this week was he would assemble a group of experts to think about what he might do as president, some day, possibly.

I'm very different. I think that we can, in fact, fix Social Security with a bold new plan. I think that we can, in fact, re-launch the country with an American energy plan that lowers the price of gasoline and generates huge amounts of revenue for the federal government, creates millions of American jobs. I think we can, in fact, use the private sector and modern science to have a bold program in space.

I never said it would be a government program, but I do believe a president who's visionary, a president who believes in America's greatness, a president who's willing to do -- launch big projects and rally the American people to big ideas -- you know, Eisenhower launched the interstate highway system. We all drive on it now. I suspect if I had proposed that, Mitt Romney would have said, "Oh, that's way too expensive. Let me study carefully two-lane highways."

This is a perfect example of the difference in the two candidacies. He is a manager who will manage the decay. I am a leader who has a vision of a bold, exciting American future where we change Washington decisively. And there's a good reason the Washington establishment is afraid of me. I will, in fact, lead the American people to change Washington. Romney will, in fact, hang out with his establishment friends, managing the decay, and explaining to the rest of us why that's the best hope we have.

TAPPER: We're running out of time, but I do want to get your response to a couple other things in the news. One is this new campaign ad from the Romney campaign, which deals with ethics allegations lodged against you while you were speaker of the House. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROKAW: Tonight he has on his own record the judgment of his peers, Democrat and Republican alike. By an overwhelming vote, they found him guilty of ethics violations. They charged him a very large financial penalty. And they raised -- several of them raised serious questions about his future effectiveness.

ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, Mr. Speaker, of course, as you already pointed out, what that ad did not point out is, two years later, the IRS investigated the matter and cleared you of any wrongdoing, but at the very least, does this ad not illustrate that, if you were the Republican nominee, President Obama would have no shortage of ammunition with which to attack you?

GINGRICH: Sure. Look, whoever gets to be the Republican nominee is going to be attacked by Obama's billion-dollar attack campaign. That's going to happen to Romney. You're not going to get by with Swiss bank accounts and not be attacked by Obama. It's going to happen to Gingrich. It would happen to Santorum. It would happen to Ron Paul. Whoever we nominate, Obama's going to attack.

The question is, can you withstand that attack better as a solid conservative or as a moderate? I would argue that a Massachusetts moderate is very unlikely to be able to withstand the attack. A conservative would have a better job.

But to go back to that example, NBC, of course, is asking to take it down and said he didn't have approval (ph) to use it. And it's fundamentally false. It's typical of his whole campaign. He knows -- and CNN has reported in great detail -- and the Wall Street Journal editorial on Saturday -- that this is a purely phony charge.

I was attacked 84 times by the Democrats because I led the Republican Party out of the wilderness, and for the first time in 40 years, we were a majority. Every single one of the substantive charges was ultimately thrown out, period.

And after that was done -- and I asked the Republicans to vote yes, because we had to get this beyond us. After that was done, we passed the first tax increase -- first tax cut in 16 years, the largest capital gains tax cut in history, got unemployment down to 4.2 percent, passed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, as a result of which there were four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime we've had four consecutive balanced budgets.

All of this is wiped away by Romney's totally phony history, which he maniacally continues to repeat. And I can assure you that all the way to the convention we're going to have a fight over whether or not somebody can be fundamentally dishonest and try to hide their liberal record in Massachusetts and try to hide their past, in terms of voting for Democrats, and get to be the nominee.

I think he -- in the end, he can carpet-bomb me with millions and millions and millions of dollars of Wall Street money. That's what he's done here. But in the end, I think the American people are going to want somebody who's a conservative, somebody who's been consistent their whole career, somebody who tells the truth, and I think that they're going to want somebody who is a visionary who wants to change Washington, not somebody who wants to accommodate it.

TAPPER: Speaker Gingrich, just for the record, I think two of those four balanced budgets were under you. But moving on, we have time for one last question, and that is, you...

GINGRICH: Well, just for the record -- just for the record, Jake, all four of those came out of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

TAPPER: OK. You took a lot of heat about a week ago for calling President Obama the food stamp president. It's not a new charge, but here's what President Obama had to say to Diane Sawyer this week when asked about that charge by you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The American people are going to make a judgment about, you know, who's trying to bring the country together and who's dividing it, who is, you know, tapping into some of our worst instincts. And, you know, that's ultimately going to be a judgment for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Last question, sir. Amidst many of President Obama's allies suggesting that food stamp president is using racial code, President Obama is suggesting that charge is, quote, "tapping into our worst instincts." How do you respond, sir?

GINGRICH: Well, for -- for a president who runs around the country attacking people and who runs around the country being divisive to describe worst instincts is to describe a large part of his own presidency. I described something which is factually true. His failed economic policies have forced more Americans to apply for food stamps than any president in history.

I worked twice, once with a Democrat, Bill Clinton, once with a Republican, Ronald Reagan. In those two cycles, 27 million jobs were created. I would like to campaign this fall as a paycheck president, offering the American people a program to create jobs.

He killed jobs as recently as last week with the Keystone pipeline decision. I think he doesn't want to defend his record of killing jobs. He doesn't want to defend his record of putting people on food stamps. But paychecks versus food stamps is a totally legitimate choice to offer the American people and one which I am determined to make a major part of the fall campaign.

TAPPER: Speaker Gingrich, thank you so much for your time, and good luck on Tuesday.

GINGRICH: Thank you. Thank you.

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