In a campaign conference call today, Team Romney surrogates went hard after Newt Gingrich:
Governor John Sununu and Senator Jim Talent spoke to reporters on behalf of the campaign, and used Gingrich’s treatment of Paul Ryan—calling the budget-wonk’s economic plan “right-wing social engineering”—indicative of an unpresidential temperament. ”Gingrich says outrageous things and he has a tendency to say them when they most undermine the conservative agenda,” Talent said, punctuating his attack lines by repeating that he is “reluctant” to criticize a member of his own party.
“It was a clever phrase, that had no other purpose than to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative leadership,” Sununu added, calling it “the most self-serving, most anti-conservative thing one could imagine.” The Ryan remark is a “reflection of the off the cuff thinking that he goes about on the issues,” Sununu said. “That’s not what you want in a commander in chief.” Sununu told reporters that Romney supports the Ryan plan (a position Romney has not taken publicly)—and later told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the plan “is just another conservative litmus test that Gingrich fails.” The campaign emailed out Ryan’s statement in response to Gingrich’s remark, that “with friends like Newt, who needs the Left,” adding that Gingrich is a “Lifelong Washington insider.”
The Ryan Plan is now a “litmus test” for Republican presidential candidates? That would be great if true. Gingrich made a cataclysmic, unforced error earlier this year when he dissed Ryan’s bold Medicare reform as “right-wing social engineering” and too big a change too quickly. It was a ridiculous statement when you consider that a) the shift to a premium-support system would not kick in until 2022, b) the plan would operate like the current prescription drug benefit plan, and c) the plan would only affect younger workers.
But Gingrich has seen the light, based on his recent comments to Glenn Beck:
Now, I also, ironically, I would implement the Medicare reforms that Paul Ryan wants, I would implement them next year as an optional choice and I would allow people to have the option to choose premium support and then have freedom to negotiate with their doctor or their hospital in a way that would increase their ability to manage costs without being involved,” Gingrich said.
So Gingrich now says he would start the Ryan plan immediately but keep traditional Medicare as an option. Romney would also keep Medicare around—though premiums would rise if it cost the government more to provide benefits than private plans—but implement the overall plan according to a Ryanesque timetable. The are pluses and minuses to both approaches. It just would have been great had Gingrich gotten here without providing a talking point for anti-reform Democrats (and maybe some Republicans) that will never go away.