Newt politically newters himself with ‘nuanced’ position on Paul Ryan’s Medicare reforms

The GOP presidential contender field continues to be mostly uninspiring and disappointing, not only thanks to Mitt Romney’s flimsy attempt last week to embrace RomneyCare while advocating an executive order-like repeal of ObamaCare should he be elected President, but also thanks to Newt Gingrich’s description of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan – which most of the House GOP support – as, essentially, an unnecessary “radical” attempt at “social engineering.”  Via the WSJ:

White House hopeful Newt Gingrich called the House Republican plan for Medicare “right-wing social engineering,” injecting a discordant GOP voice into the party’s efforts to reshape both entitlements and the broader budget debate.

In the same interview Sunday, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Gingrich backed a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance, complicating a Republican line of attack on President Barack Obama’s health law.

The former House speaker’s decision to stick with his previous support for an individual mandate comes days after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defended the health revamp he championed as governor, which includes a mandate.

The moves suggest the Republican primary contest, which will include both men, could feature a robust debate on health care, with GOP candidates challenging the Democratic law while defending their own variations.

Later Sunday, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he also acknowledged that many Republicans are uncomfortable with requiring insurance coverage but challenged them to offer an alternative solution. “Most Republican voters agree with the principle that people have some responsibility to pay for their costs,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich also said he would like to see the mandate implemented at the state level, with states experimenting with alternative approaches. But he said he should apply to all Americans.

Rep. Ryan responded to Gingrich’s remarks in a radio interview w/ Laura Ingraham:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took a swipe Monday at Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich after the former House Speaker criticized hiss proposed Medicare reforms. 

“With allies like that, who needs the left?” Ryan told guest host Raymond Arroyo on conservative talker Laura Ingraham’s radio show. 


Ryan strongly disputed Gingrich’s description of his plan, which House Republicans approved last month. 

“Hardly is that social engineering and radical,” he said. “What’s radical is kicking the can down the road.”

Also interesting but not surprising is this report from Time’s Jay Newton-Small that suggests Newt was for Ryan’s Medicare plan before he was against it:

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day following Newt Gingrich around New Hampshire. After a radio interview in Concord, Gingrich had a lunchtime Guinness at the Barley House in Concord with Thomas Wilhelmsen, the CEO of a local hospital who first met Gingrich in the mid-1990s. They lapsed into wonky talk about ObamaCare and health insurance premiums. “Every hospital administrator, like Tom here, will tell you it’s unsustainable, it can’t be done,” Gingrich said, explaining why he wants to repeal the law.

So, I asked if he would advocate replacing it with Paul Ryan’s plan.

The former speaker sang Ryan’s praises for being a “brave” “man of ideas,” like Gingrich himself.

“But would you have voted for Ryan’s plan?” I pressed.

“Sure,” Gingrich replied.

“Do you think it would actually save the health care system?”

“No, I think it’s the first step,” Gingrich said. “You need an entirely new set of solutions.”

Ed Morrissey blasts off on Gingrich’s two-faced move in a must-read:

So one day it’s a good first step, and 14 days later, it’s several steps too far?  There are only a couple of plausible explanations for this change, and none of them complimentary to Gingrich.  The first is that he told Newton-Small that he’d have voted for the Ryan plan as a “first step” without bothering to read it first in order to ingratiate himself with the conservative base.  The second is that he read it, but it took him two weeks to understand it.  And the third is that Gingrich decided that most of his 2012 competition would back the Ryan plan and that he could get political space for himself by being a contrarian.  The fourth option is that Newton-Small is simply making up the story, which seems unlikely although not impossible.

Gingrich isn’t stupid by any stretch of the imagination, so I tend to doubt that it’s option 2.  If Newton-Small didn’t make up the exchange out of whole cloth, it’s either option 1 or 3, and both of them paint a picture of a politician operating from something other than principle. 

Yep.  Not only that, but Gingrich has ensured that for at least the next few weeks all we’re going to hear about from the MSM is how much “infighting” is going on within the GOP thanks to Newt’s “differences” with the other contenders on the Paul Ryan plan, instead of hearing about how substantially different the candidates’ health care reform plans are from President Obama’s.  Of course, Newt is now trying to “walk back” and “clarify” his remarks (even admitting that the term “social engineering” was too strong) but he knows good and well that his mission is accomplished.   Everyone’s talking about him now and how he’s turning into a contrarian who leans closer to President Obama’s health care “reform” plan than he does his own party’s.  Exactly what Gingrich wants.

Some people might suggest that this is the way the competition for the nomination is supposed to work: Each contender lets us know where they stand on the issues, and how they differ from the others when it comes to specifics.  That’s not what I have an issue with. What I have an issue with is when a contender does back flips on positions solely for political gain.  There’s such a thing as a principled change of heart, where you’ve had a considerable amount of time to reconsider your position.  And then there’s the quick “change of heart” a politico/public figure has when he or she thinks it can win the praise of mainstream mediots,  Beltway elite types, and/or voters.  Furthermore, no matter the reason why the switch happens, how about a little respectful disagreement towards your like-minded colleagues instead of sounding like the cheap-shot-throwing President you’re trying to defeat? 

As someone who has defended Newt in the past against accusations that he is too cozy with the left, let me just say that at this point I’m pretty much disgusted with what he’s done here, which is to muck up the GOP 2012 nomination race with blatantly self-serving unconstructive criticism – deliberately trying to draw attention to himself, and in the process has given the left plenty of verbal ammunition to use against the right in the months to come as we approach the 2012 primaries.   Way to go, Newt.  If your goal was to make it  harder for the GOP to win in 2012, mission accomplished.

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