Newt Gingrich 2012 Presidential Campaign Has Rocky Rollout

Gingrich has generated buzz, but not the kind of buzz candidates want.

May 18, 2011— -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has generated a lot of buzz in the first week of his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of buzz candidates generally want.

A gay rights protester dumped glitter on Gingrich at a book signing in Minnesota Tuesday night.

Later, on Fox News, he was assailed for refusing to explain up to half a million dollars in debt owed to the high-end jeweler Tiffany and Co.

"I frankly don't want to play the gotcha games in Washington, and I'm just not going to participate," he told host Greta van Susteren.

But it was a comment Gingrich made Sunday that particularly angered members of his own party and forced his early campaign into damage control.

When he was asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" about the House GOP plan to overhaul Medicare, Gingrich characterized it in a less than flattering way.

"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 free society to operate."

Conservative commentators and party leaders immediately jumped on him.

"Calling it radical and right-wing social engineering is deadly," opined conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer.

The author of the plan, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., himself reacted strongly, saying in an interview Monday on the conservative Laura Ingraham radio talk show, "With allies like that, who needs liberals?"

And Gingrich has even taken flak from influential Iowa primary voters. He was confronted by one man at his first campaign stop in Dubuque who urged him to "get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself."

All but four house Republicans voted for Rep. Ryan's proposed 2012 budget, which includes the Medicare plan.

Democrats pounced on Gingrich's words about the Ryan plan as a way to bolster their position ahead of the campaign.

"Newt and I are considered political opposites, but I couldn't agree more about what he said Sunday about House Republicans' plan to end Medicare," Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. "It was refreshing to hear such candor from a top Republican."

Gingrich has apologized for his comment and publicly reached out to Paul Ryan to smooth over the dispute.

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

Gingrich also warned Democrats and his primary opponents not to use his comments in any political ads.

"Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood," he said Tuesday night on Fox News, "because I have said publicly that those words were inaccurate and unfortunate."

Some pundits have said Gingrich committed political suicide this week, ending his own campaign before it really began by alienating Republican allies and Tea Party activists in one fell swoop.

It's been a bad kickoff week. And it's only Wednesday.