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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

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MR. GREGORY: Good morning. Picking up his third win of the primary season, Mitt Romney scored a solid victory last night in the Nevada caucuses. The final votes are still being tabulated, but this is where the count stands this morning. It is Romney at 48 percent, Newt Gingrich a distant second at 23 percent, followed by Ron Paul at 19, Santorum at 11 percent. Last night, a defiant Gingrich held an election night press conference denouncing Romney and vowing to stay in the race.

(Videotape)

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): I am a candidate for president of the United States. I will be a candidate for president of the United States. We will go to Tampa. What happens is every primary day or caucus day, the Romney headquarters in Boston sends out the rumor that they believe I will withdraw, which is, of course, their greatest fantasy. I'm not going to withdraw. I'm actually pretty happy with where we are and I think the contrast between Governor Romney and me is going to get wider and wider and clearer and clearer over the next few weeks.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Republican presidential candidate, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich joins me again live this morning.

Mr. Speaker, good to see you.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: It's good to be with you, David.

MR. GREGORY: Let's look at some of the exit polling. Among conservatives, true conservatives in Nevada and this is how it broke down, decidedly for Governor Romney, beating you in all of the categories, very conservative, tea party supporters, white evangelicals. This is supposed to be your base, Mr. Speaker. So what is the path for you to win this nomination and what's the rationale?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, this is a state he won last time, he won it this time. Our goal is to get to Super Tuesday where we're in much more favorable territory. As you'll note, even in Florida where I was outspent 5-to-1, we carried all of the panhandle area, we actually carried more counties than he did. And so we want to get to Georgia, to Alabama, to Tennessee. We want to get to states, Texas. We believe by the time Texas is over, we'll be very, very competitive in delegate count and I think that the key from my standpoint is to make this a big choice campaign. You just had a quote from Governor Romney that's a perfect example. He says he doesn't worry much about the very poor because they have a safety net. Well, the safety net in many ways has become a spider web. It traps them at the bottom. Conservatives, real conservatives, who've been trying for years to develop a trampoline effect where we help people leave poverty, we help them find better schools, we help them find jobs, we help them improve neighborhoods. And I think there are a series of very big differences about the level of change that we would bring to Washington.

MR. GREGORY: Well...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: So my goal over the next few weeks is to draw a very sharp distinction between Romney's positions, which are very--the Wall Street Journal described them as timid and in terms of tax policies, being like Obama. So this, you know, I don't want to have a process campaign. I want to have an issue-oriented campaign and when we've been able to get those issues out in the open, we've done very, very well.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let me come back on a couple of points there. You say you don't want to have a process campaign, what you've been doing primarily is complaining about the fact that you've been outspent and about the fact that Governor Romney has been incredibly negative. I mean, you've had all these opportunities on the debate stage...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. What I've been doing, David...

MR. GREGORY: You've had the opportunity on the debate stage to make this contrast...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: What I've been doing, David, is responding to questions.

MR. GREGORY: ...to make it about issues.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: OK. Right. And, and, and 15 out of the...(unintelligible)...people think I did a pretty good job of that. I suspect the next one will. But it's beyond that. I want to focus on how big the change has to be in Washington. I want to focus on the degree to which we need a tax policy that is very aggressively pro-jobs. You know, you cited going into the show today that unemployment has dropped. Well, it has dropped. You know why it's dropped? Because over 4 percent of the people who would be unemployed have quit looking for work. If we had the same participation rate we had a couple of years ago, we'd be at 12 or 13 percent unemployment. People just quit looking. That's not a very positive sign for the economy. It's actually a sign of weakness. We need a much more aggressive tax policy.

We need an American energy policy. Look what's happening in the Middle East. We are hostage to a region which is very volatile and in which the forces of Iran are gaining strength and the Obama administration's basically growing more and more timid and more and more inclined to withdraw. So I think there are very large issues at stake and my goal is to communicate those issues and to get them out there.

MR. GREGORY: I want to come back to each of these issues in turn, but one more process question about just the campaign. You said in your press conference last night that you want to make this a definitional campaign to disqualify Romney in the minds of conservatives. What specifically do you mean and how to you do that?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I think if you look at his record as governor, as opposed to his advertising, his record as governor is very clear. He was pro-abortion, he was pro-gun control, he was pro-tax increase. He ended up third from the bottom in job creation, 48,000 manufacturing jobs left because the combination of Romneycare and tax increases made him, in fact, a very weak governor in terms of job creation. The challenge is to say do you really want to go into a fall election with a moderate candidate? The last two times we nominated a moderate, 1996 and 2008, we lost badly. A conservative candidate can offer a much greater contrast with President Obama, can offer a much bigger difference. And I'm prepared, for example, to talk about young people having the right to have a personal Social Security savings account, which actually saves Social Security, increases their income and eliminates about 50 percent of the disparity of wealth in the country within a generation. So I think the difference between timidly trying to manage at the margins a system that has to be profoundly changed and boldly taking it on is a very, very big difference. And I don't think a timid approach is going to beat Obama this fall.

MR. GREGORY: Let me go back to a couple of the issues that you've already mentioned, poverty and the economy, more broadly, 46 million Americans in poverty, 15 percent. You said there is a big distinction between how you would help the poor and what Governor Romney would do. I've been looking at this, researching your own positions, I don't see much difference. You believe as Governor Romney does that this should primarily be an enterprise of states in the United States to provide that social safety net to poor Americans.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, but one of the big differences is I believe there should be very dramatic increase in school choice for the very poor. I also--I'll give you an example that he himself mentioned on the very same day. He favors indexing minimum wage when virtually every economist in the country believes that further makes it difficult for young people to get a job. This is a country right now where 43 percent of young African-Americans are unemployed. In Nevada, it's 31 percent of all teenagers are unemployed. We should be making it easier for young people to get a job, not raising the cost of hiring young people, making it harder. I'm for much, much bolder tax changes than he is. For example, I would have a zero capital gains rate, he limits his capital gains tax break to people under 200,000. That means a million small businesses would not be eligible for his tax plan. I also have a 15 percent flat tax option modeled on something they've done in Hong Kong for the last 40 years. That's actually about the Romney tax rate. And look, Americans will be able to fill out one page, list the number of dependents they have, and end up paying about 15 percent on their taxes. My goal is to actually bring government down to the revenue level, not raise revenue to try to catch up with Obama's spending.

MR. GREGORY: Well...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And I think that's a very bold difference from Romney.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the economy generally and this jobs report. I want to put up, as I often do, the unemployment chart for the Obama presidency. If you go back to 2009, February of that year, 8.2 percent, the high point in October of '09 at 10.1 percent. And here we are, January of this year back to 8.3 percent. And how is it that you can say this administration has not led economic recovery?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: It's very simple, David, you didn't include the number of people who've dropped out of the workforce. And when you include the number of people who've quit looking for work because they're convinced the Obama administration's economy's so bad they can't find a job, it jumps up to about 12 percent. When you include the number of people who have part-time jobs who wish they had a full-time job, it's at 16 or 17 percent. I mean, this is an administration which has actually shrunk the workforce fairly dramatically in the last few years. I think it's the lowest male participation rate in the labor force since the late--since the early--the 1940s, right after World War II. So when you take--there's a, there's a number called U6 which is all of these factors, it's still a very dangerous, very dismal situation. And the Congressional Budget Office has warned that they believe unemployment's going to go back up this summer and fall and they think it'll stay high through 2014. And I think the Federal Reserve has a very similar forecast of a weak economy through 2014.

MR. GREGORY: If there is job creation throughout the rest of this year, even if it is not profound, even if it doesn't keep up with population growth, do you think as a Republican it will be difficult to make the case against this president as he's vying for re-election?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, it depends on what the job creation looks like. I mean, if, if you're talking about we get down to 7.9 percent in the fourth year of a--of the longest recession since the Great Depression, you still got a challenge. If it all--it's combined with the highest priced gasoline in American history because of his anti-American energy policies, he's still going to have a challenge. And if we got to that level of recovery because he's borrowing trillions of dollars from our children and grandchildren, he's still going to have a challenge.

The very simple question to ask the American people: Do you think Washington's on the right track or the wrong track? By overwhelming margin, the American people believe that Washington's on the wrong track. And I think that's going to be a big burden for President Obama to carry this fall. His policies have consistently, I think, weakened the country. He has an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would raise the price of gasoline by 25 cents a gallon. There are very few Americans who want to see the price of gasoline raised by government to 25 cents a gallon. Furthermore, you know, he's--he has declared what--it's not just an economic election, you know, he's basically declared war on the Catholic Church, and that's the language of Archbishop Dolan of New York. And I think you're going to see a very severe reaction to the idea of a radical Obama administration...

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's--explain what you're talking about.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...imposing secular rules on religion.

MR. GREGORY: This is for insurance to be provided, including contraception, for employees around the country.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Right.

MR. GREGORY: And--but religious institutions would be exempted. How is this a war against religion...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No.

MR. GREGORY: Well, religious institutions, churches and the like, would be exempted, and there are states that have very similar rules to ensure the health and safety of, of women that they get covered in their workplace, whether it be a Catholic hospital or other kind of institution.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I mean, you, you just managed to precisely repeat the Obama administration's line, which is also the American Civil Liberties Union line. The fact is what you're saying is there cannot be a genuinely Catholic university, there cannot be a genuinely Catholic hospital, that in fact it will have to be subordinated to the rules of a secular government. I mean, I happen to oppose rules that, that have, for example, forced Catholic Adoption Services to be closed because they're only willing to have adoptions for marriages between a man and a woman. There are states that now close that. I think that is a tremendous infringement of religious liberty. And I think you're saying the same thing. You're saying basically, "Oh, you can have the name on it, but you can't actually be a Catholic institution. You can't actually be an evangelical Christian institution. You can't actually be an orthodox Jewish institution because we the secular government are going to impose on you." I think that's--I think this is a very profound moment for Americans to decide...

MR. GREGORY: And you predict a political cost for the president.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...do you really want to have a government impose on them?

MR. GREGORY: Do you predict a political cost for the president because of this?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: What? Very substantial, yes. Because, because every American who cares about religious liberty, and I've been talking, for example, with evangelicals here in Nevada, every American who cares about religious liberty recognizes that from, from, from judges who say you, you can't say a prayer in high school, you can't--the New York City decision recently--you, you can't rent an empty school building on Sunday morning--every time you turn around, secular government is closing in on and shrinking the right of religious liberty in America, and I think there are millions of people who are very disturbed by it.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you--back to some of the ideas in your campaign. "Saturday Night Live" had a little bit of fun at your expense last night. Let me show you a clip of it and ask you a more serious question on the other side.

(Videotape, last night, courtesy Broadway video)

Offscreen Voice: The year 2014 is a time of turmoil for America. Comfortably serving his second term, President Barack Obama no longer hides his socialist agenda. From the darkness, a visionary emerges and leads a group of pioneers to pursue a better future in space. He is: Newt Gingrich, moon president!

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You know, you, you have talked, Mr. Speaker, about keeping focused on big ideas in this campaign and a lunar colony would fit that bill. But you also said on this program back in May that "One of my greatest weaknesses is that part of me is a teacher analyst" because too often you talk like that more than someone who's disciplined to be president of the United States. Is there something that's incongruous about your campaign where you talk about fiscal sanity, you talk about contraction and age of austerity and then you talk about a lunar colony? Do you think this ultimately hurts your seriousness as you move forward in this campaign?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, David, I don't think you'll ever find me talking about an age of austerity. I don't think that's the right solution. I am a pro-growth Republican, I'm a pro-growth conservative, I think the answer's to grow the economy, not to punish the American people with austerity. Second, that's--you know, I made a speech on the space coast in Florida to serious people who've spent their lifetime trying to help America get into space. Every serious analyst understands that the Chinese are going all out to dominate space, the Russians today have the only man-rated vehicle available to the United States in space. And I didn't propose any additional federal spending, I opposed--I proposed a fundamental reform of NASA to engage the private sector in very bold and very dramatic ventures.

And I think Greta Van Susteren got it right, she interviewed me shortly after. She said, you know--she couldn't imagine President John F. Kennedy being met with the kind of attacks, the kind of ridicule, the, the lack of faith in America that has come up in the last few days. I believe it's possible to unleash the American people, to inspire the private sector, to encourage entrepreneurs and to have a dramatically better space program than we have today. And I think every American should wonder why we've spent billions and billions and billions on NASA and currently have no vehicle to put human beings into space. So I was calling--I think--this, this was not some slip, this was a deliberate effort to start a conversation at a, at a time when the Chinese, the Indians and the Russians are aggressively moving into space and we are bureaucratically mired down in red tape spending billions of dollars without making very much progress. So I'm not for a gigantic federal tax-paid program, I'm for a dramatic reform of the current program.

MR. GREGORY: How personally nasty is it between you and Governor Romney? Have you lost personal like and even respect for him?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I--look, I think that's basically the--an irrelevant question. Governor Romney's running a campaign that he thinks is right for him. I don't, I don't happen to think it's a very good thing to do. I'm very proud of the fact that the counties I carried in Florida, the vote was up. The counties he carried, the vote was down. In South Carolina we set an all-time record for turnout. I'm going to be running a campaign of big ideas, big solutions. I'm trying to draw people into politics, not carpet-bomb them out of it. We just have a fundamental disagreement about the responsibility of somebody running for president should have to the American people.

MR. GREGORY: And, Mr. Speaker, before I let you go, I was paying attention last night that you're rooting for the Giants today, and I just am shocked by one thing, not your support for their wide-receiving unit or their very strong pass rush, but that you would endorse a team that comes from the capital of media elitism.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, you know, my son-in-law and I have shares of Green Bay stock and we have an obligation, David, to honor the team that beat us, painful though it was. And I know it makes you and your son happy, so on this one I'm with you.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Newt Gingrich. Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Thank you.

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