While today's conference call with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was respectful, I couldn't help but notice that the atmosphere of the conversation seemed tense. That said, I'm not sure that Gingrich's "clarification" was so convincing. Here's why:
Newt Gingrich is incredibly and indisputably smart. He's been in and out of the Washington game for decades now. I find it hard to believe that he fell prey to the "combative" questioning of David Gregory. If the former Speaker was indeed caught in a bit of a word trap with the NBC anchor, I personally believe him smart enough to talk his way out of it without dropping verbal bombs like "radical," "right-wing" and "social engineering" in such close proximity to the Ryan plan.
Not only that, but I'm also not convinced such a smart politico would deliver such a simple message (we need to get Americans' support before we do something) with such clumsy messaging.
In looking for a logical explanation for his remarks, it's been speculated that Gingrich may have feared a potential Paul Ryan run for president and was seeking to distance himself. It's also been suggested that perhaps Gingrich is not really in the race to win it, but is looking to score political points as a more "moderate" Republican voice. While both of these scenarios seem a bit far-fetched, I'm about as inclined to buy into them as I am to the notion that one of the smartest & most powerful Republicans around accidentally stepped in a big pile just hours after officially launching his presidential campaign.
More plausible (in my mind, at least) is that Gingrich knows he's not going to win over the GOP primary voters as "the establishment candidate." We're in a much different world politically than we were in 1994 and he needs a drastic plan to turn today's tide back in his favor.
With many older dedicated GOP voters likely uncomfortable with the idea of changes to Medicare, I'm willing to bet the Gingrich camp used very deliberate language ("social engineering") to try and drive a political wedge in the GOP base. With today's momentum flowing in the tea party's support, it's unlikely other candidates would step out to try to grab this bloc of voters, leaving them largely up for grabs. While tea party favorites divvied up the fiscal hawk voters, Gingrich could capture a large group without risking more moderate stakes in a potential general election contest.
That's my theory, anyway. Regardless, I'm interested in seeing how the coming weeks play out and how Gingrich will continue to backtrack away from this angle. This wouldn't be the first time Gingrich politically miscalculated, as NRO's Jim Geraghty points out.