Paul Ryan Blasts Gingrich On Leadership: “This Is Not The 1990s”

There’s likely still some bad blood between Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich over the controversy that raged in the Spring when Gingrich, just weeks into his campaign, called Ryan’s Medicare reform plan “right wing social engineering,” thus setting off a firestorm on the right that ended with Gingrich repudiating his statement and bizarrely saying that anyone who used his own words in a future ad was lying. That wound has been reopened, though, thanks to an interview Gingrich gave to Coffee & Markets in which he appeared to return to his previous criticisms of Ryan’s plan:

If there’s a program that is very, very unpopular, should Republicans impose it? And my answer’s no. Reagan ran to be a popular president, not to maximize suicide. I think conservatives have got to understand, you govern over the long run by having the American people think you’re doing a good job and think you’re doing what they want. Now the question is, how do you have creative leadership that achieves the right values in a popular way? [Transcript via Alana Goodman]

Yesterday, Ryan spoke to National Review’s Robert Costa and unleashed a scathing attack on Gingrich, and his leadership style:

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the influential Budget Committee chairman, has kept his distance from the GOP primary. But after reading Newt Gingrich’s latest comments about entitlement reform, he says the contenders must seriously address the debt crisis, not play political games.


Ryan, in an interview with National Review Online, says that he disagrees with Gingrich, and urges Republicans to confront fiscal problems, irrespective of political risk. Worrying about electoral “suicide,” he says, is a disservice to voters, “who don’t want to be pandered to like children.”

“This is not the 1990s,” Ryan says. “The ‘Mediscare’ is not working and we should not back down from this fight. I, for one, believe the country is ready, they’re hungry for it. They are ready to hear real solutions. We shouldn’t wait around for the status quo to become popular.”

“Leaders don’t follow the polls, leaders change the polls,” Ryan says. “We have moved so far in advancing entitlement reform, not just in Congress but in this [presidential] race, with most of the candidates embracing comprehensive entitlement reform. That has been a very good thing. At this point, we should be moving forward, not moving backwards.”

Ryan adds that he is still undecided about whether he will endorse a candidate. But his message to Gingrich and the rest of the field is clear. “Leaders need to go out and change things, speaking to people as adults,” he says. “We should not shy away from this fight, even though we know the Democrats will demagogue us.”

On some level Gingrich has a point, pushing forward with plans that are clearly unpopular just for the sake of pushing them forward isn’t smart politics. At the same time, though, as Ryan puts it, it’s the job of leaders to lead and to make the case for their ideas. Of the two positions, Ryan’s is the one more likely to appeal to conservatives while Gingrich’s attitude suggests, not without cause, that he is more interested in power for power’s sake than in actually accomplishing anything and that the principles he claims to adhere to are mere political contrivances.

This appears to be the line of attack that many conservatives are taking against Gingrich right now, as James Joyner’s post this morning demonstrates, and there are at least some signs that it might be working:

GOP presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich is extremely susceptible to negative ads and drops behind Mitt Romney when hit with charges he pushed for a health care mandate, took money from Fannie Mae and backed other non-conservative issues, according to a new poll provided exclusively to Washington Whispers.

Gingrich’s support is “decimated” when voters are exposed to just one negative ad, said polling firm Evolving Strategies.

“The percentage of respondents picking Gingrich as their first choice in the primary falls more than 15 points, from 42 to 26 percent,” they said.


In the innovative ad testingof voters nationwide, Evolving Strategies found that former Republican front-runner Romney benefits most from voters turned off by the negative Gingrich ads, with his support rising 10 points, a 39 percent increase in his standing.

But, said Sabrina Schaeffer, managing partner of the firm, Romney isn’t taking advantage of the public’s uncertainty about Gingrich with his current attacks on the former House speaker’s temperament.

“His erratic temperament is a part of the ‘old negatives’ from his speaker days, along with his infidelity. Voters are willing to forgive that because he has appeared different, mellowed in the right ways, on the debate stage,” Schaeffer told Whispers.

“Romney should focus on the ‘new negatives,’ the issue-based attacks on Gingrich from his time out of office; Fannie and Medicare drug expansion lobbying, support for a federal health mandate and cap & trade. These are mostly unknown negatives to most of the public, and they severely undercut the dominant image of Gingrich in the primary voter’s mind as the conservative revolutionary who retook the House and pushed Clinton into signing dramatic reforms,” she added.

Of course, some of these attacks are better handled by campaign surrogates than Romney himself, but the point remains the same. We’ve already seen some evidence that Gingrich’s poll support is softening, if Romney and the conservatives who are panicked over the rise of a Gingrich candidacy want to help that along, they’ve got their guide. Tonight’s debate should be very interesting.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mattb says:

    Gingrich has a point, pushing forward with plans that are clearly unpopular just for the sake of pushing them forward isn’t smart politics.

    Is it me, or is Gingrich’s position that its not wise to push a clearly unpopular choice a little ironic when one looks as his national polling numbers?

  2. Rob in CT says:

    Gingrich had a moment of clarity when he panned Ryan’s plan, though “right-wing social engineering” wouldn’t have been my turn of phrase. That’s typical Newt for you, innit? Oooh, he sounds so smart and stuff! He said social engineering!

    There are going to have to be cuts. Ryan’s plan, however, was total BS. All it does is shift a bunch of costs off the government’s balance sheet and onto seniors. After that, we get into magic wand territory. Seniors are then expected to “shop around” for cheaper care (or rather cheaper insurance which means high-deductible plans and the like, which in turn rely on the idea that the individual can find cost-savings in care itself) and, via the wonderous free market costs will start dropping. It’s utterly absurd (though it does make the federal government’s balance sheet look better).

    Healthcare is not like buying a TV or a car, for a number of reasons. Ryan’s plan is premised on the idea that healthcare can be treated like buying a car and will be subject to the same market forces. I think that’s wrong, and obviously so for anyone who actually sits down and thinks about how it would work in real life, for them.

    That leads me to a question: does anyone know if any healthcare reform proposal has ever included a provision that requires all healthcare providers to provide pricing information up-front? That seems to me to be the most basic prerequisite for any move toward “free market” healthcare. It’s obviously unworkable for complex procedures and treatments (there would have to be wiggle room in there), but the simpler the task/procedure, the easier it should be to price out.

    If that cannot be made to work, how in the world can an individual do a damned thing about bending the cost curve via shopping around (as opposed to simply running out of money and ceasing to receive care)?

  3. Tano says:

    Gingrich’s attitude suggests, not without cause, that he is more interested in power for power’s sake than in actually accomplishing anything

    My gawd, are you going to have me be defending Newt Gingrich???

    How can one hope to “actually accomplish something” if the plan you put forward is deeply unpopular, and can accurately be characterized as “political suicide”?

    Ryan’s plan was never going to come close to being passed – I doubt it could ever get close to majority support within the GOP. It was a radical, ideological wet dream. And Gingrich is quite right to argue that for a prominent political player to put something out like that in the midst of a huge political battle with the opposition, is sheer madness. Ryan made the Democrats job a lot easier, opened up fissures within the GOP, and all for what? He accomplished nothing positive to offset the negatives.

    It seems that Ryan, although he can’t admit it explicitly, has understood that Gingrich was right, which is why he is now pushing a very scaled back plan that does not eliminate Medicare as we know it – in collaboration with Ron Wyden.

  4. “The ‘Mediscare’ is not working […]”

    Seemed to work alright for the GOP and the Tea Party in 2010 (remember the ‘keep the government’s hands off my Medicare’ signs?).

  5. @Tano: Everyone that talks about what Newt said about Ryan’s plan, for some reason, leaves out the fact that the GOP threw Ryan and his plan under the bus.

  6. Moosebreath says:

    Ryan’s right. During the 1990’s, Gingrich managed to get a Democratic President to pass one of the Republicans long-term goals (welfare reform). Today, all Ryan can do propose items like transferring Medicare increases from the government to seniors which won’t get near the President’s desk to veto it. That’s a great example of leadership, Paul.

  7. MIke in SA says:

    Ryan may be, and probably is, right about Newt. He is a bomb thrower and a confusing personality. BUT he’s also the one running for President. RYAN still has a chance to get into the race and SHOULD! He has great ideas and if there is a time when we Republicans need a genuine leader who can pick up the ball and run with it, it’s NOW. I know he thinks it isn’t the right time but, given the negatives of ALL the current front runners against the incumbent, we need someone like him to coalesce behind! PLEASE RUN PAUL!

  8. Barb Hartwell says:

    Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan are both nuts and should never have got in the positions the have.
    God help us all if they ever become president.