WASHINGTON — With Donald Trump out of the way, it appears there’s a new Republican presidential hopeful with a penchant for missteps and gaffes: Newt Gingrich.
Just a few days after declaring he would run for president, the former Republican Speaker of the House got off to a rocky start, including a public upbraiding from an angry GOP voter, a glitter-bombing by a gay activist and withering contempt from fellow conservatives.
The trouble began on Sunday, when Gingrich criticized fellow Republican Paul Ryan’s budget plans, calling them “radical” and an exercise in “right-wing social engineering.” Ryan has proposed replacing Medicare with a voucher system for Americans under 55.
Ryan’s reply was incredulous: “With allies like that,” he asked, “who needs the left?”
Although Gingrich soon apologized in the face of Republican outrage, other high-profile members of the party have expressed dismay, including Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, a key early primary state. Gingrich, she said, “cut (Ryan) off at the knees.”
Gingrich, 67, has been attempting to walk back the remarks all week, even with an apparent effort to erase the public record: “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood,” he said. “Because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate.”
Democrats aren’t listening. Instead, they’re gleefully revelling in the gift Gingrich has unwittingly bestowed upon them.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has sent out an email to voters in 50 Republican districts chastising their representatives for supporting a budget plan that even Gingrich, who once said Medicare should “die on the vine,” won’t back.
“Even Newt Gingrich thinks it’s radical,” part of the email reads.
Sen. Chuck Schumer is also vowing that the Democrats will continue to aggressively draw attention to Gingrich’s anti-Ryan remarks.
“Newt and I are considered political opposites, but I couldn’t agree more with what he said Sunday about the plan to end Medicare,” Schumer, who helps oversee the party’s political messaging, said Wednesday in a conference call.
“It was refreshing to hear such candour from a top Republican . . . Gingrich was saying what everyone knows to be true: The plan is extreme.”
Out on the campaign trail, where he meets with real people, not politicians or pundits, the man who led the so-called “Republican revolution” in 1994 — when the GOP won control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years — hasn’t been faring much better.
A lifelong Republican voter confronted Gingrich in an Iowa hotel lobby earlier this week to call him an “embarrassment to our party.” Video of the encounter has gone viral on the Internet.
“Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself,” Russell Fuhrman, 69, told a visibly stunned Gingrich.
Later, Fuhrman told the Des Moines Register that he’s upset about Gingrich’s criticisms of Ryan’s budget proposals, calling Gingrich “a jerk.”
Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and radio host William Bennett have all chastised Gingrich, with Bennett offering advice on Monday when he had the candidate in the studio as a guest: “To salvage your candidacy, say you blew it.”
Charles Krauthammer, the Montreal-raised conservative columnist for the Washington Post who’s influential in Republican circles, argues it’s too late for that.
“He’s done,” Krauthammer said on Fox News. “He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it’s over.”
Alex Castellanos, a long-time Republican political consultant, was scathing in his criticism of Gingrich on the Daily Caller website on Wednesday, even raising his sordid extra-marital history.
“Gingrich may be very good with ideas, but he is less so with that other thing you find often in politics: people,” he wrote.
“Without a care, he runs roughshod over them. The same Gingrich who left one wife in her sickbed with cancer, then abandoned another struggling against multiple sclerosis, has now thrown his entire party under the bus in pursuit of his own ambition.”
Even David Gregory, the host of Meet The Press, has harsh words for Gingrich, who claimed he was the victim of “gotcha” journalism on the Sunday current events show and suggested unfair questions caused him to speak too harshly about Ryan’s budget plan.
“There was no set-up,” Gregory said Wednesday. Gingrich, who’s appeared on the show 35 times, “knew what he was doing” and “knows what he’s doing now,” he added.