After Conservative Backlash, Gingrich Says He's 'Reaching Out' to Paul Ryan

Gingrich tries to apologize amid a growing chorus of Republican anger.

May 17, 2011 -- In an attempt to appease a growing chorus of prominent Republicans angry about his attack on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, Newt Gingrich told a group of bloggers Tuesday that he is reaching out to Ryan and trying to make amends.

"My hope is to find a way to work with the House Republicans," Gingrich said on a conference call with bloggers, according to the Daily Caller. "I used language that was too strong, although the underlying principle, I think, was right."

Gingrich's campaign kick-off was marred by his loose lips on the Medicare plan endorsed by House Republicans, and GOP leaders reacted with unusual ferocity to his words, even questioning his ability to run a disciplined presidential campaign.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Gingrich called Ryan's Medicare plan "right-wing social engineering," saying it is "too big a jump" and "radical change."

"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," Gingrich said. "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate."

Republicans have hammered the former House speaker for his criticism of the Ryan plan. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose support will be crucial in the South Carolina primary, slammed Gingrich in an interview with CNN today.

"What he said was absolutely unfortunate," Haley told CNN in a phone interview. "Here you've got Rep. Ryan trying to bring commonsense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees.

"When you have a conservative fighting for real change, the last thing we need is a presidential candidate cutting him off at the knees," Haley said.

House GOP members have joined the chorus criticizing Gingrich's labeling of the plan as "radical." House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan, who developed the plan, said, "With allies like that, who needs the left?

"Hardly is that social engineering and radical," Ryan said on the Laura Ingraham radio show Monday. "What's radical is kicking the can down the road, not doing anything to fix this problem and watching the whole system implode on itself."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia called Gingrich's comments a "tremendous misspeak," which could jeopardize his presidential run.

"There's no question there was a misspeak here," Cantor told Chicago radio station WLS Tuesday morning. "Just to sit here while all but three House Republicans voted for the Ryan budget, to somehow portray that as a radical step, I believe, is a tremendous misspeak."

"Many have said now he's finished," Cantor said later. "I probably would reserve judgment on that. Perhaps he can come out and say he misspoke and get back on board with what we're trying to do."

On ABC News' TopLine, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri called Gingrich an "ideas guy" who employed some unfortunate words to make his point.

"I don't know why Newt chose those words, but when you're an idea guy, you're eventually going to toss an idea out there or a view of an idea that somebody doesn't like," Blunt said. "Maybe he'll even decide he'd wished he would've said it a little differently."

In Iowa Monday, Gingrich encountered an angry voterwho called him "an embarrassment to our party" and urged him to get out of the campaign.

Attack on Paul Ryan 'Unforgivable'

"What you just did to Paul Ryan is unforgivable," the voter said. "Why don't you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?"

Along with his words on the Medicare plan, Gingrich also told "Meet the Press" that he supported a "variation" on the individual health insurance mandate.

"I've said consistently, we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you're going to be held accountable," Gingrich said.

The Gingrich team tried to "walk back" back those comments Monday by releasing a YouTube video of Gingrich rejecting the individual mandate.

"I am for the repeal of 'Obamacare,' and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone, because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional," Gingrich said.

In Mason City, Iowa, today, Gingrich became the first presidential candidate to sign the "Obamacare Repeal Pledge," which vows that if elected president, he would sign all bills aiming to repeal the health care law that passed in March 2010.

In a meeting with the Wall Street Journal's editorial board Monday, Gingrich admitted he may have used "too strong language" when criticizing the Ryan plan, but said he thought it "would be politically catastrophic to pass the bill in its current form."

A Wall Street Journal editorial said the episode showed Gingrich's "odd combination of partisan, divisive rhetoric and poll-driven policy timidity," and underscored his "weakness as a candidate."

"This is very very damaging for him," Matt Lewis, a reporter with the Daily Caller, said on ABC News' TopLine. "Despite the fact that he helped lead the Republican revolution and has done a lot of great things over the years, conservatives were already a bit skeptical of him."

Gingrich has run into some trouble by flip-flopping on other issues. In early March, Gingrich said he supported U.S. intervention in Libya, saying the U.S. should "exercise a no fly zone in Libya.

"All we have to say is that we think slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and we're intervening," Gingrich told Fox News. "This is a moment to get rid of him, get it over with."

Later that month, he backtracked and said the U.S. should not have intervened.

"There are a lot of other ways to affect Gadhafi," Gingrich told the "Today" show. "I think there's a lot of allies in the region that we could have worked with."

On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Gingrich acknowledged his penchant for making comments that often land him in trouble.

"One of my great weaknesses is that part of me is a teacher-analyst and part of me is a political leader, and one of the most painful lessons I've had to learn, and I haven't fully learned it, obviously, is that if you seek to be the president of the United States, you are never an analyst."

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