Newt Gingrich: Republicans Rip Obamacare, but Have 'Zero Answer' for Alternatives

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich address the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., in this March 16, 2013 photo. Credit: Pete Marovich/Getty Images

BOSTON - Suggesting the Republican Party should be a party of ideas rather than just attacks, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told a gathering of GOP operatives that lawmakers who criticize Obamacare but offer no alternatives will be left with "zero answer" for constituents who ask for a policy solution to the president's health care reform law.

"I would bet for most of you, you go home in the next two weeks while your members of Congress are home and you look at them in the eye and you say, 'What is your positive replacement for Obamacare?' and they will have zero answer," Gingrich told state party chairs, activists, and operatives at the Republican National Committee summer meeting. "We are caught up right now in a culture - and you see it every single day - where as long as we are negative, as long as we are vicious, as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don't have to worry, so we don't.

"This is a very deep problem," he added. "I'm being totally candid with you."

Gingrich's message at a luncheon on the first day of the RNC meeting was to stay positive and deliver alternatives to Democratic policy instead of just attacks. He said he will "probably spend the rest of my public life trying to drive this message both in the party, but also, in a broader way, in to the American community."

He recalled that the GOP was able to block "Hillarycare" in 1994 because they had a "positive alternative approach" to health care.

"We need to build a new model of Republican answers that starts with the health system we need and [then be able to say] that's why I'm against Obamacare - in that order," Gingrich said. "We need to get away from this, 'I'm against Obamacare,' and then stop - and that's all you have to say."

Gingrich, who has a new CNN show that will start airing this fall, argued that the Republican Party has a "chance" in 2014 and 2016 "to offer a vision of the future."

"I don't think we beat Hilary Clinton in a personality fight because the news media will prop her up," Gingrich said. "She has to defend the current failures and we get to offer a dramatically better future."

If that happens, he added, "I don't think she can win."

Gingrich, a 2012 presidential candidate, mentioned his forthcoming book "Breakout" throughout the speech, which calls on the Republican Party to embrace emerging technology, a topic he kept returning to throughout the event.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said he agreed that there needs to be a positive message attached to Republican candidates and lawmakers, saying they should be able to complete the phrase, "I'm a Republican because …" and it should be a message all Republicans should be proud to promote.

"I'm a Republican because," Priebus said. "'Hi I'm Jose. I'm a toolmaker here in Milwaukee, and I'm going to tell you why I'm a Republican.' Thirty seconds ads, positive messaging, cheerful messaging about this party and the future of this country - I think all of this plays into it."

He later told reporters he would "absolutely" talk to candidates about keeping a positive message.

When asked directly if he agreed with Gingrich's remarks that Republican lawmakers have "zero" alternatives to Obamacare, Priebus said "not completely," pointing to some health care proposals some Republican members of Congress have put out on their websites. But he added that the party needs to do a "better job" in developing alternatives.

Priebus said Republican members should still vote to repeal Obamacare and defund the legislation that enacted it, but he would not say whether he would support a government shutdown to accomplish those goals, adding that he would "not get into tactics."

The RNC summer meeting is scheduled to last through Friday.

A speech Thursday by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to be among the highlights.

On Friday, RNC members will vote on whether to boycott any 2016 primary debates on NBC and CNN if those networks do not pull production of planned Hillary Clinton films.