Newt Gingrich: “Mitt Romney did what he had to do to become the nominee… when he got to the crunch, he was tough enough and smart enough to beat me in Florida”
NEW YORK – May 24, 2012 – On tonight’s ‘Hardball,’ Former House Speaker and the Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich sat down for a wide-ranging interview with MSNBC host Chris Matthews. Gingrich weighed in on an array of topics, including the 2012 presidential-race battles, his endorsement of former rival Mitt Romney, the speculation around Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick and President Obama’s campaign strategy.
When asked about his rationale in supporting Mitt Romney, Gingrich compared Romney to Dwight Eisenhower and praised Romney, saying “Mitt Romney did what he had to do to become the nominee… when he got to the crunch, he was tough enough and smart enough to beat me in Florida.” Gingrich also called the candidate “a successful politician,” that “might turn out to make a surprisingly good president."
On the President, Gingrich said “Obama's one of the most articulate, eloquent people we've ever had, and I think he's largely an amateur. I think that his -- his misunderstanding of this city [Washington, DC] is extraordinary.”
A transcript of the interview is below, if used, must credit MSNBC’s ’Hardball with Chris Matthews.’
Links to embeddable clips:
- Chris Matthews/Newt Gingrich: part 1 of 2
- Chris Matthews/Newt Gingrich: part 2 of 2
TRANSCRIPT: CHRIS MATTHEWS INTERVIEWS FORMER GOP NOMINEE NEWT GINGRICH
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: So let's get at it with the man who gave Mitt Romney a good fight, who learned the hard way a lot more about Mitt than most of us will ever learn, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and former presidential candidate. Mr. Speaker, thanks for joining us.
FORMER SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to be with you.
MATTHEWS: Let me -- you know, I have a theory about you, which isn't hard to prove because anybody who watches you knows that you're smarter than you talk sometimes. You know more about politics at a deeper level. You read endlessly about American political history. You write historical novels. And you were up against guys in debate who don't.
GINGRICH: That's true.
MATTHEWS: How much does it burn you that Mitt Romney, a man who I am convinced -- check me on this -- is not deeply rooted in American political history, beat you with money?
GINGRICH: Oh, it doesn't burn me a lot. Look, you know, Mitt Romney did what he had to do in order to become the nominee. He organized for six years. He's worked at this, I think, since his dad's campaign for president, his mother's campaign for the U.S. Senate. He's paid his dues. He lost in '94 to Teddy Kennedy, came back and served as governor. And when he got to the crunch, he was tough enough and smart enough to beat me in Florida. Now, I have real respect -- and you have the same -- you know, you've been at this stuff. When you have somebody who's tough enough to look you in the eye and run over you...
MATTHEWS: Does he tell the truth about you?
MATTHEWS: All right.
GINGRICH: But he did what he had to do...
MATTHEWS: So the ends justify the means and we get the best man that way.
GINGRICH: No. No, it's not that. It's just that -- I mean, go back and look at what Obama did to Hillary. I mean, these are tough fights. You know this. You've been through them. You throw the kitchen sink.
He was in a situation where everything he had ever done was going to disappear if I beat him in Florida. And so he said, Look, I got two choices. I can throw the kitchen sink at Gingrich...
GINGRICH: ... or I can be a nice guy and not be the nominee.
MATTHEWS: Well, what burns me, as a student of politics, is that someone like yourself, who has been studying politics -- look what we've got a history of the presidency. We've got people like Woodrow Wilson, who wrote a life of Washington. We've got people who came into the office who actually earned it in terms of deep thought about what the office meant historically. Mitt Romney is not that guy. He's a guy who's a man of faith -- OK, we'll give him that -- of family -- give him that -- and of business -- give him that. But he's certainly not a man of history or in any kind of historical understanding of the presidency. He doesn't understand what it is. He thinks it's a business tinkerer job, a guy who...
GINGRICH: No, I don't...
MATTHEWS: Tell me what's good I've missed about him.
GINGRICH: Look, I don't think that's fair. I mean...
MATTHEWS: Well, tell me what I've missed.
GINGRICH: First of all, I think having served as governor is a step. But I also think something deeper. This is a guy who has thought about this at least since his father ran...
MATTHEWS: Yes, about doing what daddy couldn't do.
GINGRICH: Right. But he's thought about it. He's thought...
MATTHEWS: Is that historic?
GINGRICH: ... about it on a serious level.
MATTHEWS: Is that understanding our country?
GINGRICH: I would say -- I'll just say this, having collided with him head on and having collided with his organization head on, and now working with him...
MATTHEWS: All right...
GINGRICH: ... on the campaign. He has assembled a very smart group of people, and he listens to them well and he asks them tough questions, and he is approaching this as methodically as anybody I know. You know, back in the 1950s, Sam Labell (ph), who was one of the greatest political scientists of all time, was at election night with a whole bunch of academics who were shocked that Eisenhower won over Stevenson.
GINGRICH: And he walked around the room and not a single person in the room had voted for Eisenhower. And he said, Guys, this is a sign of how big the gap is in America.
MATTHEWS: I understand that.
GINGRICH: OK? Mitt Romney is a lot like Eisenhower. He is a very good organizer. He is a very methodical person. He is prepared to systematically do what he thinks is right for the country. And I think he might turn out to make a surprisingly good president.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but let me tell you -- that's what gets to me because Eisenhower received the Nazi surrender, OK? Eisenhower won the war in Europe from the Western side.
MATTHEWS: Eisenhower was a man of peace who kept us out of the Indochina war, kept us out of Lebanon, kept us out of a lot of things like the Suez campaign. (INAUDIBLE) took us into Lebanon. That was about it. He was a man of peace who had seen war. The other guy is a guy who had never seen war who talks like a hawk. So I got a problem with that. Romney talks like he's been to war, but he hasn't.
GINGRICH: No, but...
MATTHEWS: OK? Am I right?
GINGRICH: No, the parallels aren't even, but I think the point is, Stevenson was much more eloquent than Eisenhower. Stevenson was much more admired by the intellectuals than Eisenhower.
GINGRICH: Different presidents come from different backgrounds. I mean, who would have guessed in 1860...
MATTHEWS: But it's such a stretch to compare him to Ike.
GINGRICH: No, who would have guessed in 1860 that Lincoln would end up being as eloquent and as effective as he was?
GINGRICH: Now, I'm just saying...
MATTHEWS: So you're saying he's a long shot.
GINGRICH: I'm saying that you don't know today and he doesn't know today exactly what kind of president he'd be, but I mean -- you're not going to agree with this, but look at Obama. Obama's one of the most articulate, eloquent people we've ever had, and I think he's largely an amateur. I think that his -- his misunderstanding of this city is extraordinary.
MATTHEWS: OK, that's your shot. Let's take a look at an earlier shot you made against Romney.
MATTHEWS: Here you took on Romney's claim he wasn't a career politician back in January during that "MEET THE PRESS" debate, and I actually thought this was quite a smart comment by you. Let's watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This for me, politics, is not a career. For me, my career was being in business and starting a business and making it successful. My life's passion has been my family, my faith and my country.
GINGRICH: Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney? The fact is, you ran in '94 and lost. That's why you weren't serving in the Senate with Rick Santorum. You've been running consistently for years and years and years. So this idea that, suddenly, citizenship showed up in your mind -- just level with the American people. You've been running at least since the 1990s.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You got him to laugh because it was true.
MATTHEWS: He's a failed politician who claims to be better than that.
GINGRICH: OK, but now I have to tell you he's probably laughing watching this because now he's a successful politician. He's going to be the Republican nominee.
MATTHEWS: But his claim to have been a citizen by choice, some kind of business guy who stayed away from the dirtiness of politics, was forced on him by defeat!
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Let me...
GINGRICH: He wasn't a volunteer after '94.
MATTHEWS: OK, let's take a look at this. Here we are. We have Newt Gingrich at an event down in Florida. Let's watch the next clip of you in action here. I like this stuff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: We're not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs while it forecloses on Florida and is himself a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together and understand what this is all about.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So now I think the Obama team -- maybe they're not as sharp as your team, but they're going to use everything you've said.
GINGRICH: Yes, and here's the problem they've got. And I'm actually surprised they did this. It didn't work.
MATTHEWS: Well, you didn't have the resources.
GINGRICH: Not just didn't...
MATTHEWS: No, but if you had the kind of money that...
MATTHEWS: ... Restore Our Future -- if you could have matched them dollar for dollar, you'd have won this election. You know that.
GINGRICH: But I wouldn't have won it on that issue. That issue didn't work, and it didn't work for two...
MATTHEWS: In the Republican Party it didn't work.
GINGRICH: No, it doesn't work in general.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes?
GINGRICH: I mean, watch what's happening to him right now. There's a reason you have the governor of Massachusetts, you have a Democratic senator from California and other...
MATTHEWS: Because they like the equity boys because of the money they give them. Let's be honest. They hang out with those guys because they want their support. You know what's going on! Cory Booker! Come on! Look at this. All these guys like Deval Patrick, they love those guys!
GINGRICH: So you're saying the only honest, ethical guys are guys like Barack Obama, who was the number one choice...
MATTHEWS: No, I think you were being honest here. I think you had a streak of honest there, saying, Do you want some chop shop guy...
MATTHEWS: ... coming in and taking over the American political system...
GINGRICH: And I...
MATTHEWS: ... when his only claim to fame is he knew how to shut down businesses and cost-cut them to death...
MATTHEWS: ... so he could flip them!
GINGRICH: I thought...
MATTHEWS: You said it well, by the way.
GINGRICH: I thought I was a better choice.
GINGRICH: Compared to Obama, I think Romney's a better choice.
MATTHEWS: But you thought...
MATTHEWS: ... all your IQ, you said that this Bain Capital thing was the bane of the guy's existence.
MATTHEWS: For months! And you said it rather well, better than the president maybe.
GINGRICH: I was...
MATTHEWS: And now you're saying you're wrong.
GINGRICH: No, I'm saying it doesn't work. Here's the president's problem. First of all, the president was the number one recipient of Wall Street money in 2008. The president was loved by everybody who he's now...
MATTHEWS: For reasons that have nothing to do with economics.
GINGRICH: I'm just pointing...
MATTHEWS: You smile, but you know...
GINGRICH: I'm just pointing out...
MATTHEWS: These people on Wall Street never vote their economic interests when they vote for a liberal. They don't -- they don't -- they don't want regulation. They don't want high taxes.
MATTHEWS: They do it despite that, whereas the Republican guys do it because they like those deals.
GINGRICH: I'm just...
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) know the difference.
GINGRICH: I'm just reporting to you that -- your position, which is if they're for us, they're not virtuous, but if they're for your guy...
MATTHEWS: No, no, no! I think a lot of people vote their interests. But in the case of Wall Street...
GINGRICH: ... problem, and it's twofold. One, Obama has set up a class warfare paradigm which people reject. And two, his performance on the economy is so bad that a president with this level of unemployment attacking business I think is just not credible.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me try the class warfare the other way. Suppose a guy comes along and said, Look at me, I made a quarter billion bucks. If you do it my way, we win. Isn't that class warfare? If you -- if you benefit (ph) from having a guy as successful as me -- that was his word, "successful" -- we'll have a better country. In other words, my wealth is my case for my presidency.
GINGRICH: Well, that's what George Washington would have said. That's what -- I mean, the fact is...
MATTHEWS: Yes, they were elites!
GINGRICH: ... historically, what they would have said is their interest in ending -- in ending poverty by leveling up, not leveling down...
MATTHEWS: Well, just remember Washington had a couple hundred slaves, and there was a different kind of politics -- let's take a look at some (INAUDIBLE) I don't think anything we say here is as good as what you were saying in the campaign.
MATTHEWS: You described the choice between yourself and the president in stark terms just a few months ago on the (INAUDIBLE) I want you to analyze some of the signals you're sending. These are called "dogwhistles." You watch. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: If you're for paychecks, you're with us. If you're for food stamps, you're with Barack Obama. If you are for American exceptionalism, you're us. If you're for European socialism and Saul Alinsky radicalism, you're with Barack Obama. If you are, in fact, in favor of a strong America in a dangerous world, you're with us. If you're for a weak America that tries to appease its enemies, you're with Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I've been applauding your intellect, but then you use a phrase like "food stamps," with all the coinage that it's got. Fine. Fine. I know what the game you're playing (INAUDIBLE) It's OK. But then the Saul Alinsky line. Do you think the average person out there has any idea who Saul Alinsky -- they think they're hearing Trotsky. You know what you're saying, Saul Alinsky!
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, they do!
GINGRICH: No, no.
MATTHEWS: You said this foreign-sounding name, Russian-sounding name. Why are -- why Saul Alinsky?
MATTHEWS: What's the point -- what's the point of giving a stump speech saying, This guy wants to worry about food stamps and Saul Alinsky. What's the signal is? He's for poor blacks and he's off with the commies.
GINGRICH: Food stamps are not about poor blacks.
MATTHEWS: Oh, it isn't?
MATTHEWS: That's not the signal you were sending.
MATTHEWS: What does it say?
GINGRICH: Food stamps are about dependency.
MATTHEWS: Oh, OK. It doesn't have any ethnic connotation?
MATTHEWS: OK. Fine. How come it always did until you came along?
GINGRICH: No, it doesn't. It didn't -- it never has had that. That's -- that's a liberal...
MATTHEWS: Reagan used to do it. Reagan used to say a guy standing in line, a woman standing in line at the Safeway, buying, you know -- and sees a guy, a young buck walked by and buy his -- his liquor with his food stamps. It was the same old Welfare mother line -- lineage. You know that. I'm not going to get you to agree with it.
MATTHEWS: I'm just going to assert it.
GINGRICH: Reagan's Welfare mother...
MATTHEWS: Welfare queen!
GINGRICH: (INAUDIBLE) remember the Welfare queen.
MATTHEWS: Yes. What was that about?
GINGRICH: Never once had an ethnic -- I mean, it could have been any background.
MATTHEWS: Yes, right!
GINGRICH: More -- more whites...
MATTHEWS: You're smiling.
GINGRICH: More whites than blacks...
MATTHEWS: I know that and you know that, but I'll tell you, the average person out there thinks it's another shot (ph).
GINGRICH: OK, so if I'd said Bill Ayers instead of Saul Alinsky, since Ayers...
MATTHEWS: Fair enough.
GINGRICH: ... is not a foreign...
MATTHEWS: Fair enough...
MATTHEWS: You would have called him a terrorist.
GINGRICH: That's not a foreign-sounding -- well, he was at one time.
MATTHEWS: OK. I know he was. We're going to be right back. I want to talk to you about some interesting stuff right now. One question I have about your party, and you are a prominent Republican, former speaker -- why can't you lose the birther stuff? Why do you guys got, like, Trump, who you're going to be with tomorrow, why this guy, what's his name, Coffman (ph) out in Colorado, still pushing this line? There's about a dozen of these guys. Why don't you just drop them off the back of the caboose and say, Lose it. We don't want you anymore.
We'll be right back with Newt Gingrich. He's going to explain why he hangs around with -- well, his party does -- with birthers.
GINGRICH: You're going to tell...
GINGRICH: ... this'll be an interesting segment.
MATTHEWS: You're going to tell Obama to lose who?
GINGRICH: I said, Are you going to lose the Donald?
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL, and back to the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.
You know, I don't think you believe a word of this, but why does some people in your party, including the very wealthy Donald Trump, who I have mixed feelings about, of course, like everybody does, perhaps not you -- and I like him in some ways, but he's not stupid enough to believe this birther stuff, and yet he keeps playing it.
Barack Obama has a birth certificate, the same as ours, right? He comes from a father who was from another country, but he's locally born in Hawaii. Why do some people in your party keep pushing that he's not an American?
GINGRICH: Beats me.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Tampa convention. The way it usually works is we're on -- we're going to be on almost gavel to gavel here. I'm going to be down and we'll all going to be covering this thing on Fox and here at MSNBC and CNN. But on the broadcast networks, which is still the standard people like to apply to it, you get about an hour a night. Are you going to get primetime?
GINGRICH: I have no idea.
MATTHEWS: Did you ask for primetime?
GINGRICH: No, but I'll get whatever Romney thinks helps him win.
MATTHEWS: Even if it's not on broadcast.
GINGRICH: Yes. I will take whatever Romney thinks will help him win.
MATTHEWS: You're just a supplicant now. You're just a humble...
GINGRICH: I'm not a supplicant, I'm a team player.
MATTHEWS: A team player?
GINGRICH: I started my career as a team player.
MATTHEWS: You know, when you smile, I see what you are! But that's all right. Let me ask you about the vice president. Without trying to guess it -- I think it's Portman -- but without guessing it, I would love it to be Christie, for purposes like I'd like you to be the nominee because there's a lot more color. But how do you -- how's he go about picking him, the way he does everything, like an IBM executive, very calculated, maybe get him one state? Is that same rule we used to have, get one state...
GINGRICH: No, I don't think.
MATTHEWS: What is it about?
GINGRICH: I think it's, first of all, about -- I mean, if you look at George W., for example, getting Wyoming couldn't have been the reason he picked Cheney.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but Dick Cheney picked himself, though.
GINGRICH: Yes. Well...
MATTHEWS: Come on!
GINGRICH: That whole -- that whole dance was orchestrated by...
MATTHEWS: By Cheney.
GINGRICH: By Cheney, by Rove...
MATTHEWS: Yes, of course. You know, he was in charge of picking and he picked himself. He basically said...
MATTHEWS: ... Tom Ridge is a good guy (ph). Of course, he's not good on the values questions. Of course, he was against the MX (INAUDIBLE) You could see how he shot everybody down, Cheney, to get the job himself. But go on.
GINGRICH: I think -- look, I think they will face a couple of big decisions, and you won't know the shape of it until probably July. For example, Virginia's a key state both for governor and for the Senate. Bob McDonnell is a terrific governor. Do you use him, and does that seal off the South?
MATTHEWS: Does it hurt if he's Catholic?
GINGRICH: No, if anything, it helps. I mean, given the current struggle between Obama and the Catholic hierarchy...
GINGRICH: ... McDonnell would actually be an asset everywhere. I mean, he would be an asset across the whole country as a Catholic. If you -- if you want a guy who helps you in the industrial Midwest, Portman has the advantage across the whole region.
MATTHEWS: Does it hurt he was in the Bush administration?
GINGRICH: I think it makes it more complicated that he was the trade representative because then he's got to get -- but on the other hand, Portman's really smart, so I suspect he can handle being the trade representative. He did run...
MATTHEWS: Would you go with a colorful guy like Christie or Rubio?
GINGRICH: I would look at Rubio very seriously, and I think they will. I would also look at a longer shot like Susana Martinez, who's the governor of New Mexico.
MATTHEWS: Does it hurt Rubio that he had Mormon roots, that he was a Mormon when he was a young kid? Is it too strange to have two people with Mormon backgrounds on the ticket?
GINGRICH: No, it doesn't bother...
GINGRICH: Rubio's a unique figure in his own right.
MATTHEWS: OK. So you think he's really in the running, Rubio?
GINGRICH: I'd be -- yes, I think -- at this stage, I think he is. And you got to question -- I mean, first of all, delivering Florida is now -- a huge state.
MATTHEWS: Sure. If you had (INAUDIBLE) right now, who do you think are the best picks for him, if you were picking?
GINGRICH: Oh, I think almost anybody you just mentioned. And I would look at a Mitch Daniels. I would look at three or four other people. There are -- there are -- they've to decide a couple things. First of all, the person has to be philosophically -- has to be capable of being president, and second, has to be philosophically compatible, which means a broadly conservative person.
GINGRICH: I think John Thune is extraordinarily attractive...
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so, too.
GINGRICH: ... very articulate, and you know...
MATTHEWS: OK, last question, animals, because you and I, in a different way maybe, share a tremendous interest in animals. I think you're the only presidential candidate ever to basically go zoo to zoo.
MATTHEWS: What is that about? You went off on a zoo trip -- and you've also made comments over the years about how men and women in combat -- or women in combat are a problem because men want to go off and kill giraffes and...
GINGRICH: Well, that actually came from a course I taught.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, it was still -- it still belies -- well, whatever it means, what are you about -- what are you about animals? What's you and animals about?
GINGRICH: I love the natural world. I love animals, whether they're in -- out in the wild. I love animals in zoos. I love paleontology.
MATTHEWS: OK. We're going to make news now. Best zoo in the country?
GINGRICH: Oh, San Diego.
MATTHEWS: Best -- for big animals, all kinds of animals?
GINGRICH: Sorry. If you take the wild animal park and the downtown...
GINGRICH: It's just huge.
MATTHEWS: Best -- best animal, favorite animal to go watch?
GINGRICH: Favorite animal to go watch? Hard to say. Maybe elephants.
MATTHEWS: That's me, too. Me, too.
GINGRICH: They're amazing.
MATTHEWS: I'm with elephants.
GINGRICH: They're just remarkable.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I'll show you in the picture in the office here. Let me -- do you like the reptile house?
MATTHEWS: Why do you like the reptile house? Because most people are afraid to go in there.
GINGRICH: They're astonishingly successful. They do it in a totally different way than we do, and they have been successful for a very long time.
MATTHEWS: Favorite snake?
GINGRICH: Probably a python.
MATTHEWS: Why? A constrictor, right?
GINGRICH: Big and passive.
GINGRICH: Yes. It's...
MATTHEWS: You like the constrictor aspect of it?
GINGRICH: No, I just think they're very...
MATTHEWS: You like that it eat cows whole?
GINGRICH: They don't eat cows whole.
MATTHEWS: What about a mamba? I would have thought you would like a black mamba. They go 30 miles an hour. They attack your nervous system. You have got 15 minutes to live. They attack like this and they keep attacking.
GINGRICH: You have a more ruthless approach to politics than I do.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. The black mamba has been here. Anyway, thank you, Newt Gingrich. Please come back, if you don't sign with FOX again. That would be good for you. Stay independent, like Notre Dame.
MATTHEWS: Stay out there.
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