4. Ryan apostasy
Just days after starting his presidential campaign, Gingrich almost ended it with a May Meet the Press appearance, in which he excoriated House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to convert Medicare into a voucher system.
“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”
Gingrich’s derisive remarks came amid a heated debate about the Ryan plan, and many conservatives said they were tantamount to betrayal. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote: “Mr. Ryan speaks softly but proposes policies commensurate with America's problems. Mr. Gingrich speaks loudly but shrinks from hard choices. Who's the 'radical' and who's the real leader?”
Gingrich eventually apologized to Ryan in a phone call, but already the whispers that he had fatally wounded his campaign had begun. That criticism subsided over the summer as Gingrich faded into (temporary) obscurity, but surely his rivals will begin reminding voters about it now. How can he change Washington, they might ask, when he’s already shot down one of the GOP’s most significant proposals in years?
His comments also highlighted concerns among many Gingrich backers that, for all his verbal gifts, he is too gaffe-prone to win the nomination. Under renewed scrutiny, that lack of discipline could resurface -- particularly in the very debates that have spurred his recovery in the polls.
5. Pelosi and climate change
For conservatives, it’s bad enough that Gingrich has urged the country to combat climate change. But he didn’t only talk about the problem -- he cut a TV ad in 2008 with the one Democrat who might inspire as much loathing within the GOP base as President Obama: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Sitting side-by-side on a couch overlooking the Capitol, Gingrich and then-Speaker Pelosi emphasized the dire threat posed by climate change.
“We do agree, our country must take action to address climate change,” Gingrich said. He added later, “If enough of us demand action from leaders, we can spark the innovation we need.”
What makes the ad especially bad for Gingrich? The group sponsoring it was founded by another Democrat whom Republicans love to hate, former Vice President Al Gore.
The visual of Gingrich and Pelosi sitting next to each other like old friends is one that will surely return to hurt his campaign. The Republican candidate likes to talk about the significant threat liberalism poses to the country, and he urges the need for “fundamental” changes to government to combat the encroaching problem. Allying with Pelosi to support an issue many Republicans see as the epitome of government overreach undercuts that image.
It’s little surprise, then, that Gingrich is hastening to recant, saying last week on Fox News the ad was “probably the dumbest single thing I’ve done in years.”
WATCH David Letterman jokes about Gingrich's comeback:
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