JOHNSTON, Iowa - After headlining the Polk County GOP dinner here this evening, a beaming Newt Gingrich said the whirlwind of his newfound frontrunner status was “disorienting” when asked if he was prepared for the change in attention to his campaign in just the last few weeks.
“No, look, I have to confess: This is disorienting, OK?” Gingrich said. “This is such a rapid change that we are having to re-think our own internal operations right now and where we are. I would not have given this speech two weeks ago because it wouldn’t have seemed to make sense for this guy who is an underdog to be up here talking about the totality of the future, but the fact is, given where we are, I think this is the right setting to start saying to people, ‘This is what a Gingrich presidency would look like. This is how really different it would be.’”
During the speech, which received three standing ovations over 45 minutes, Gingrich referred to the lean times during the summer when his campaign was on the ropes, a stunning change to where he stands now, just 33 days from the Iowa caucuses.
“As many of you know, I was supposedly, in June and July, dead, so it is great to be back. And I have to confess that while I was hoping for a wave, we’ve had sort of a tsunami,” Gingrich told the crowd.
The former speaker of the House these days seems to be following Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” This evening he stuck to it closely.
When asked by a reporter if he feels like he has to articulate why a Gingrich presidency would be better than one featuring some of his rivals he answered, “No, the American people will decide that.”
Next he was asked if he needed to help them decide. Also a no.
“The American people are really smart,” Gingrich said.
Would he distinguish himself from Mitt Romney? No.
“I’m not interested in distinguishing myself from Romney. I’m happy to be who I am. I think that distinguishes me from Romney,” Gingrich said. “I’ll let you guys worry about that stuff. The only person I want to focus on is Barack Obama.”
This is quite different from earlier in the week when Gingrich was asked about Mitt Romney on the Charleston AM News. Gingrich said he was “a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney.”
The host told Gingrich some voters have a problem with Romney because he is “way too eager” and asked Gingrich if there was anything he wouldn’t do to become president.
“Sure, there’s lots of things I wouldn’t do to become president. I wouldn’t lie to the American people. I wouldn’t switch my positions for political reasons. It’s perfectly reasonable to change your position if facts change, if you see new things you didn’t see. Everyone’s done that. Ronald Reagan did it,” Gingrich said. “It’s wrong to go around and adopt radically different positions based on your need of any one electorate, because then people have to ask themselves, ‘What will you tell me next time?’”
Gingrich spent a larger portion of his speech tonight on President Obama, saying the president ”believes in a world in which the classic America has disappeared.”
“He believes in a world in which the United Nations is more important than Congress. He believes in a world where international law is more important rather the U.S. Constitution,” Gingrich said to cheers.
He also seemed to appeal to a broader electorate, telling the audience that he’s “come to realize we need an American campaign, not a Republican campaign.”
“We need to open to every person of every background who shares our commitment,” Gingrich said. “And you and I know that’s going to make some our friends very uncomfortable. But if you and I want to rebuild America, we have to start making our friends uncomfortable.”
To reporters after the speech, Gingrich said he would even turn the other cheek if Romney continues to criticize him – to a point.
“If he puts his hand on my shoulder, that might be different,” said a smiling Gingrich, clearly ecstatic to be there.
He was referring to when Mitt Romney put his hand on Rick Perry’s shoulder at an October debate in the middle of a heated exchange.