Newt Gingrich has been extremely contrite lately, reaching out to conservative commentators, bloggers, and lawmakers in recent days to personally apologize for slamming the GOP budget as “right wing social engineering.” Perhaps lost in the overwhelming appearance of a full walk back is that Gingrich hasn’t really walked back anything.
“If I were re-wording it, I would have said it slightly different,” he told Wisconsin TV station WXOW on Wednesday. “The intent was the same, but I’m happy to continue to evolve.”His words echoed comments he made on Tuesday to conservative bloggers, in which he expressed vague regret for his phrasing on Meet The Press but little more.
“I used language that was too strong, although the underlying principle I think is right,” he said.
Gingrich has made repeatedly clear both in his own words and through his spokesman Rick Tyler in recent days that he still does not support Ryan’s Medicare plan. Even his assertion that he would have voted for the House GOP budget includes the caveat that he would have made changing the Medicare portion his next priority.
The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker blog found a novel way to highlight the chasm between his apologetic tone and actual position by testing the accuracy of his statement to FOX’s Greta van Susteren that “any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood and because I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.” The post’s author, Glenn Kessler, concluded that he has yet to adequately answer two logical follow-up questions: “If the plan is radical, why?” and “If it is not radical, why does he oppose it?”
Looking through the van Susteren interview itself, Newt dodged on this issue by repeatedly minimizing the Ryan plan as merely “the beginning of a process” on Medicare, suggesting that any final — and notably unspecified — Medicare plan will have gone through many changes. He said he made a mistake by answering a “hypothetical” from David Gregory even though the Ryan plan has little chance of passing, but that doesn’t answer the question of Newt’s own position either.
And, as Kessler notes, it’s not even clear how far he’s backed off from calling it “radical,” telling conservative bloggers on Tuesday that “Part of what I’m worried about is compelling people to go through a radical change that has not been tested.”
It would make sense given that his campaign’s initial response to the Meet The Press interview was that “radical change from the right” and “right wing social engineering” simply didn’t mean what everyone thought they did.
“‘Radical’ means that politically you can’t get to what Ryan wants from where we are,” Newt spokesman Rick Tyler told The Weekly Standard on Monday. “It will be demagogued to death. ‘Right wing social engineer’ refers simply to compelling people to participate without giving them a choice. That is a political mistake.”