NEW YORK -- December 28, 2011 -- NBC News Political Director and Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd today interviewed Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker the House Newt Gingrich while on the campaign trail in Iowa. Todd asked Gingrich about negative ads and attacks, his measure of success in the early states, and his criteria for a Vice President. Gingrich also offered an explanation for his past statements in support of Gov. Romney’s Massachusetts health care law.
Below are video links and a rush transcript from today’s interview. Content will also be available on nbcpolitics.com.
If used, mandatory credit: NBC News.
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VIDEO : Chuck Todd’s report from “NBC Nightly News”
VIDEO: Chuck Todd’s report from “Andrea Mitchell Reports”
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TRANSCRIPT: Chuck Todd Interviews Newt Gingrich
ON BEING ATTACKED
GINGRICH: To have him [Romney] run a commercial that questions my conservatism? I mean, I have been a conservative my whole life.
. . .
GINGRICH: It surprises me, it shouldn’t have. I fully expected the left, the morning they thought I was real, to go crazy because I'm in a way; I am their mortal threat. I don’t just threaten Obama electorally, I threaten Obama intellectually and I threaten their model of how the world works with a Reagan/Kemp supply-side model. They are very fundamental fights. I didn’t expect people I had been colleagues with and people I had known for years to be as negative as they have been.
TODD: You don't know where it came from?
GINGRICH: No. You have to go talk to them.
. . .
GINGRICH: The fight I am in with Romney is exactly the fight that Reagan was in with the establishment in '80. It is amazing how none of the fault lines have changed.
ADULT SUPERVISION IN WASHINGTON
GINGRICH (on phone with radio interview): I think it just further convinces people that we need to get adult supervision in Washington; that having the Amateur Hour isn't working.
GINGRICH: I don't think you can accommodate the old establishment, I think you have to defeat it. When you accommodate the old establishment they keep doing what they are already doing and the country gets weaker.
TODD: Is your campaign, you have a little Goldwater, a little Reagan. You are saying you had the same fights that Reagan and Goldwater had, you think it is important even if you lost the general election, and by winning the primary is that a defeat of the establishment? How important do you think that is for the future of the Republican Party?
GINGRICH: I think the nomination is much harder.
TODD: And once you get there?
GINGRICH: We run a campaign of paychecks versus food stamps and the president won't be able to defend himself.
TODD: How important is this fight on the establishment?
GINGRICH: The center of the future of the country. If you have an establishment, which has a Republican wing and a Democratic wing, and the most you get out of the Republican is that they run the country so the establishment is happy, you can't get where you need to go.
TODD: What do you have to do here in Iowa?
GINGRICH: You have to be in top 3 or 4. This is so bunched and confused you could have 100 votes separating-- you've got to come out of here credible enough
. . .
TODD: You've got to win either Iowa or New Hampshire don’t you?
GINGRICH: No, you need to win South Carolina.
TODD: That is your must?
GINGRICH: Yes, everyone who has won South Carolina has been the nominee. Every single one.
TODD: That's a fact.
GINGRICH: So if you looked at where we first put our team, our biggest team is in South Carolina. And – but – frankly I thought originally six weeks ago I said third or fourth, I am rising. I would like to come in second in New Hampshire. I mean, it’s very hard to beat Romney in New Hampshire -- although it will be fun, it will be a much more exciting week than he thinks.
TODD: But you still have to get top three here?
GINGRICH: I think so, top three or four -- depends on whether they are all bunched. I mean what if you have four people at – tied? What if you have Ron Paul win? I think at that point you sort of have people who shake their head and go to the next topic.
TODD: I want to start this morning, your chief rival Mitt Romney goes on a news program on Fox and says this of healthcare, he said, 'Speaker Gingrich supported what he did on healthcare in Massachusetts until he got in the race.' What do you say to that?
GINGRICH: I say it’s amazing that everybody-- the Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, everybody else has figured out mandates are bad and Mitt Romney is still standing right there with mandates. He cannot unlock himself from having passed Romneycare. I would also say, I had no idea at the time we had this discussion, that in Romneycare he both has tax-paid abortions as part of the Romneycare package and he gives Planned Parenthood a unique legislated role in Romneycare. Had any conservative done that, they would have opposed Romneycare from day one.
TODD: Let's talk about what you said then about Romneycare, you said what you liked about it also was that it was achieving the goal of everybody having health insurance and doing so in a way that was--in a way--the mandate was pushing is that it was personal responsibility. If the mandate then is off the table, how do you do it?
GINGRICH: I think the closest you can come to it is what has been developed as a concept called Patient Power by John Goodman, which involves tax credits and if people don’t want to buy any insurance, their share of the tax credit goes into a charitable pool and then if something happens to them they are taken care of.
TODD: Doesn’t that start the same problem over again which is the burden goes on the--that the uninsured-- the burden, they show up in the emergency room—
GINGRICH: --and at that point the tax credit takes care of it. But the challenge you've got, and this is why everybody finally -- at least every conservative starting with the Heritage Foundation which is where I was originally, is that the more you look at it two things become clear. You are extending politicians into people’s healthcare in a way that in the long run that will cripple the system. Because you end up with all sorts of definitions of what you can do and what you can’t do and that is exactly what is happening in Massachusetts under Romneycare.
The second is that in the long run, you can’t afford the kind of approach you are using. You talk to people today in Massachusetts they will tell you, what Romney did is expand the demand for healthcare without improving the delivery system. And the result is they are running out of primary care doctors, it is getting harder and harder to get people to the doctor, you have businesses leaving the state because it is so expensive to do business in Massachusetts, both small businesses going-- I just did a town hall in New Hampshire, where 20 percent of the people in the town hall meeting were refugees from Massachusetts who moved for economic reasons.
So the question is, can you find a model, I mean, what I say is--in a statement I standby: all of us would like to see 100 percent of Americans in some way have access to healthcare. None of us want to end up seeing Americans not have access to health care. And we don’t think there should be free-riders.
At the same time, we don’t think a mandate -- the more people that looked at it, the more people concluded that a mandate is constitutionally very dangerous, because a Congress which could impose your--which could say you must buy this, politicians could then define everything you have to buy. And so the precedent of having Congress affirmatively define what you have to buy and not people have just concluded as very dangerous.
The amazing thing to me by the way is that Governor Romney has learned nothing out of this whole thing. He is still for the mandate, he is still for Romneycare, still for the system in Massachusetts.
TODD: You believe: you are for a state mandate, you are for a mandate. That there is no difference saying, he is making a state's rights argument.
GINGRICH: No, what I am saying is that the mandate doesn’t work in the end, it increasingly extends politics into healthcare. Just the very fact that they put Planned Parenthood on the board, did not put any right to life organization, tells you how biased the system is.
And I think one of the challenges he had as a Massachusetts Moderate was he is trying to govern with a liberal democratic legislature that affected his health plan, it affected the judges he picked, the whole range of policy choices he had because in the end he accommodated the liberal democrats.
TODD: What's the line-- you keep talking about this-- people say he was as conservative as he could be. What is the line here? Sometimes you govern with the legislature that you have not the legislature that you want.
GINGRICH: Well, Ronald Reagan had Tip O'Neill and we got through all of Reagan's major packages—
TODD: He couldn't balance the budget, he couldn't do some things...
GINGRICH: But he said up front, if he had to choose between defeating the Soviet Empire and balancing the budget he'd prefer defeating the Soviet Empire. He said as Milton Friedman said, if you have to choose between economic growth and raising taxes to balance the budget, he'd prefer economic growth. In Reagan's case, these were clear value choices.
As Speaker of the House I had to deal with democratic president. All of the major things we accomplished were conservative, they weren't liberal. So, you look at welfare reform, Clinton vetoed it twice. We got it on the third round. Half the Democrats voted for it, 101-101. We got the first tax cut in 16 years, and the largest capital gains tax cut in history, signed by a democratic president. Unemployment dropped to 4.2%, we got four straight years of balanced budget, signed by a Democratic president.
TODD: You've been very critical of negative campaigning, which includes SuperPACs. You've been in politics a long time, you also know the candidate that complains about negative ads usually is the one that can't afford to run them. Fair?
GINGRICH: We are going to run 2-thousand points of advertising this week.
TODD: This is the first week--
GINGRICH: --All of it positive. But all of it positive. When I was at 6% approval and you guys thought I was dead I was still positive. I mean I have been positive at every stage of this campaign. And will be positive at every stage --
TODD: You've run negative campaigns in the past --
GINGRICH: I have run campaigns that define people, I don’t run negative ads. I run contrast ads, they say 'I am for a tax increase--
TODD: --one man's contrast ad is another man’s negative campaign ad--
GINGRICH: Well no, if you say ‘I am for tax cuts, he is for tax increases,’ that is a legitimate contrast and very different than the ads they have been running out here
TODD: What is it about the ads that you think is (inaudible) you've said they are factually incorrect...
GINGRICH: Well, there is one ad that is my favorite, I think it is either an email or a robocall that says there is no difference between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama on gun rights and right to life. I mean you have to live on Mars to believe there is no difference between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama.
TODD: (question inaudible)
GINGRICH: I am, I mean the NRA has given-recognized me for lifetime legislative achievements, I'm 96.8% on right to life and the one vote was a welfare reform vote, not an abortion vote. I mean to come back and say that there is no difference between me and Obama is, you know, if it was a private company they would be sued for fraud.
TODD: Now I am not trying to say gotcha right now, it is just because I have it here. There is a SuperPAC now helping you they are sending out this mailer and you have said that you want to criticize negative ads. This one says, calls Mitt Romney the second most dangerous man in America, very critical of Gov. Romney and his spending proposals. Does that cross the line?
GINGRICH: I wouldn't call him the second most dangerous man in America. And I am happy to publicly urge them to not repeat that line in future mailings. On the other hand, if they have a factually accurate mailing, that says he is for this and for this and for this -- it’s a question of whether he is for it. I think that being factually accurate and explaining somebody's position is legitimate. It is when you are factually wrong or when you are factually distorting things or you are taking something and turning it into something that it isn’t, that its wrong.
. . .
GINGRICH: Reagan wanted to communicate clearly and vividly to the American people. I want to communicate clearly and vividly to the American people. President Obama is the best food stamp president in American history. That is a fact. More people are on food stamps today because of President Obama's policies than ever in American history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history and having worked with Reagan and worked with Clinton I think I have a record to prove it. So I am just saying, is that vivid language? Sure.
. . .
TODD: Your VP criteria, what is it?
GINGRICH: Be capable of being president, goals of fundamental change in Washington, be helpful of campaign -- and in that order. Third least important of the three.
TODD: Can you imagine you would be asked (to be VP)?
GINGRICH: I can't imagine I would be asked.
GINGRICH: I am too strong a personality. Would you want to be the presidential nominee with me as your vice presidential nominee? You know, I mean, I am-- I believe, just like Reagan. I believe in very bold, very decisive change.
. . .
TODD: What is your relationship with your ex-wives?
GINGRICH: With my first wife we have a relationship because we share two daughters and two grandchildren. I think it is very respectful on both sides, she has been a very good mother and very good grandmother and I am very concerned for her as a person. And I have tried to deal frankly with a lot of these personal questions without in any way intruding into her personal life.
TODD: And your second wife—
GINGRICH: We don’t have a relationship.
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