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Public Statements

CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: Rick Santorum's sweep in the Republican contest was a big setback for Mitt Romney, but the big loser may actually have been Newt Gingrich. He finished third in Colorado, finished fourth in Minnesota, wasn't even on the ballot in Missouri.

But a new ARG poll taken before those results shows Gingrich leading the GOP field in Oklahoma, less than a month before the Super Tuesday primary there. I spoke with Newt Gingrich last night. He outlined his strategy and told me where he's focusing his efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we're looking forward to Ohio, which is where I am now which has started early voting. Arizona, which has begun early vote, Tennessee starts next week with early voting. So, I mean, we're trying to look at the whole country at the same time.

I stayed in Florida and then fought it out. Senator Santorum decided to go to other states. I mean, each of these campaigns, they're making its own decisions about what to do right, but we're having a great time here in Ohio and we think have a very real chance of winning Ohio. So, it's very exciting to be here.

We're on the race all the way. I just talked to Governor Perry today. We have a strong operation in Texas. We have very strong operation in Georgia. Our goal is through Super Tuesday, we then go to Alabama and Mississippi, and then we go to Texas. And our hope is by the time we get to Texas on April 6th, that we'll basically be pretty close to a tie with Governor Romney.

I think that the positive ideas we're developing, the dramatic contrast, he talks about not caring about the poor, because they have a safety net. I want to create a springboard to help them all get jobs and to help them all work and to help them all have a chance to pursue happiness.

They ridiculed my ideas about us competing in space. I don't want to let the Chinese and Russians dominate space.

And when you go to the Wright brothers' home, you look at what they did and how they did it, and you realize they discovered how to fly for 500 bucks while the U.S. government was throwing away $50,000 in the same cycle, failing to fly. It's a pretty good model for what I want to do, liberating space from the bureaucracy, getting entrepreneurs to come in and do exciting positive things for America's future -- by the way, things which will create jobs in America and make us once again the technological leader of the world, which is I think what we've got to be.

We're only going to be a successful country if we are consistently the most innovative and most technologically advanced country in the world.

BLITZER: I don't know if you've seen these stories over the past few days about you suggesting that you want more debates or you want no more debates. I wonder if you want to clarify, do you want a lot more presidential debates or are you over all these debates?

GINGRICH: Look, I'm happy either way, Wolf, as you know. We did very, very well. I think most people believe that I won 15 out of 17 debates, and tied one and probably you could argue I lost one. I think that's a pretty good track report.

I'm happy to debate. I'd much rather have a Lincoln/Douglass- style debate. I would love the opportunity to have head-on with Romney, no moderator, just a time keeper. Let's take a couple of big ideas. Let's talk about them together.

I have a very bold tax plan to create jobs. "The Wall Street Journal" said the boldest plan. He had a plan so timid, "The Wall Street Journal" said it was comparable to Obama.

It would be great to have a tax debate with Romney or have a debate over his attitude towards the very poor and my idea of trying to create a springboard to give them a chance to become middle class, to work hard to have a better future. I would love those kind of debates, but you know, you call one, I'll show up whether he does or not. I'm happy to do it either way.

BLITZER: All right, good to know that. Let me ask you about Syria right now. We're spending a lot of time looking -- the slaughter is continuing. Right now, it's a brutal situation.

I don't know if you heard John McCain saying the U.S. should start thinking at least of providing weapons to the opposition. Barbara Starr is reporting from the Pentagon tonight that the U.S. military beginning to think of some potential contingencies out there.

If you were president of the United States and you saw thousands of innocent people, protesters simply slaughtered by this regime, what would you do?

GINGRICH: Well, first thing you have to ask yourself, Wolf, is what has happened to the Obama administration that we are months into this and they're starting to think?

You would have thought they would be covertly working with our allies in the region to be funneling all sort of assets into the rebels. It's clearly in our interests for Assad to be kicked out of power.

This is clearly an ally of Iran, and we frankly want to get him replaced if we can. So I'm amazed that they're starting to think about something they should have done about five months ago.

BLITZER: So if you were president, would you actively start providing at least weapons to the opposition?

GINGRICH: Well, I would actively have -- first of all, as president I wouldn't tell you. I would seek to have genuinely covert operations in which we worked with allies in the region and had people who are fluent in Arabic, who are deeply engaged in helping them.

And I would ensure that those folks had adequate weapons, but you know, weapons in that part of the world aren't hard to get. That's pretty easy to attain. The trick is also have advisers I don't think they should be American.

But I think it would not hurt if we were helping a group of advisers that from the region go in and help organize to defeat Assad. It is definitely in our interest to get rid of Assad as a dictator because he's an ally of Iran. It will be a major blow to the Iranians if Assad were kicked out of power.

BLITZER: One final political question, Mr. Speaker, before I let you go. You remember 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford, went all the way to the convention. You remember what happened. Are you in at least until the convention? Do you think it will go that far?

GINGRICH: Well, I don't know yet. I think I'm certainly in it all the way to the convention. We'll see what happens. You could have -- at the rate we're going you could have the first open convention since 1940, which would give you something to cover that you would just love.

I have no idea how this is going to involve. I know that I stand for the growth-oriented Reagan wing of the party that wants to see us to be very dynamic and very different, and I think that fight with the establishment as you point out.

Just like Reagan/Ford in 1976, I think we're probably going a long way in distinguishing between Governor Romney's position and my position over the next couple of months. But in addition, I think it's not harmful -- remember Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were in a contest all the way up to mid-June.

It didn't seem to hurt them. John McCain won early. It didn't seem to help him. So I think having us out here, testing out ideas, showing people that there are genuine, not just personality, philosophical differences about how we approach America's future.

I think that's very healthy for the Republican Party and I think we're going to be a party of better new ideas and better new solutions as a result of this process.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

GINGRICH: Thanks. Good to see you, Wolf.

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