While discussing the GOP's newest frontrunner, Newt Gingrich's latest rise in the polls, even the better part of the panel on Fox News Sunday didn't think much of his prospects for winning the GOP presidential nomination once voters start paying more attention to his lobbying work and flip-flopping on issues at every turn just as Mitt Romney has.
When even the pundits over at Fox are throwing cold water on your campaign's prospects and feel they don't have much choice but to discuss your baggage, I'd say that probably doesn't bode well for the kind of media coverage you can expect in the near future from any of the other networks as well, although I'm sure Hannity will still be doing his best to help Newt out.
WALLACE: So, Brit, how do you account for Newt's rise, particularly after the dismal start, million dollars in debt, his staff firing him, and now he's the co-frontrunner?
HUME: Well, in a sense, it was his turn. And he now occupies the single most dangerous place to be in American politics, which is the non-Romney leader in the Republican field, the position that has been occupied by everybody from Donald Trump to most recently Herman Cain, with a couple others in between who have fallen by the wayside.
Everybody who has occupied that spot has entered almost immediately a slide. It remains to be seen, of course, if Gingrich will. I think he has some vulnerabilities, and the explaining you saw him do on Greta van Susteren's show just now is a sign of that. One of those companies that he represented to the tune of a considerable sum of money, represented, or worked for, advised, was, of course, Freddie Mac, which was a big player in the mortgage meltdown.
So he has some vulnerabilities. And he has a long tract record. And he's got books. And he's got many public statements on many issues. In fact, if you look -- you know, he's had about every position you can have on -- on every issue. Not all of those positions were conservative. So we will hear all about that in the weeks ahead.
WALLACE: Well, let's talk about that. And, you know, with the added attention and spotlight comes the scrutiny, a bunch of stories coming out this week, as Brit mentioned, one of them that he made somewhere between $1.5 million to $1.8 million advising the failed mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Then it came out that his think tank got $37 million from various major health care companies.
How damaging do you think that is to his narrative that, yes, he was an insider, but now he's an outsider and he's the man to really shake up this town?
STODDARD: I think he's been disingenuous in his answers about, you know, the -- the health care companies and drug firms did not pay his consortium $37 million because of his grasp of history. Freddie Mac did not pay him $30,000 an hour for their monthly visits because of his grasp of history.
And I think Iowa voters will begin to discern, as they learn more about his activities, whether that's -- his answers are reasonable and credible and forgivable.
He's, I think, been disingenuous and parsing his answers on this. But he is ultimately also Romney-lite. I mean, he is admitting now, on this big website he has set up to let us know why he's such a true conservative and he's the alternative to Mitt Romney, that he really has taken back his support for TARP and he's really sorry he said what he said on climate change and a mandate for health care reform. Those are major issues, and those are called flip-flops.
WALLACE: Boy, there's a lot of Newt-bashing on the panel today.
Bill, let me ask you about it. Because it isn't just that he made the money; it's how he made the money. He got millions from health care companies and insurers at a time, which is, until very recently, when he supported the individual mandate -- he was a big supporter of this idea, frankly, until earlier this year.
He wrote that Medicare should follow the lead of one of his clients on end-of-life decisions, which sounds a lot like death panels.
I mean, it's not just the money; it's that he was taking positions that I would think conservatives may have some troubles with.
KRISTOL: I think he's taken positions over the years that conservatives do have some trouble with. He's also been, however, something Mitt Romney hasn't been. He has been a leader of the conservative movement for 25 years.
I came to Washington in 1985, and as a young, you know, foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, how many, you know, conservatives have really been prominent since then, who one looked up to and thought "He's fighting our fight"?
For all of his problems, all of his deficiencies, all the fights he sometimes didn't quite fight correctly, Newt Gingrich is one of very view.
And I think that is why there's a certain rallying to Newt by conservatives against Romney.
Obviously, there will be a big assault, and a justified one, now -- or scrutiny, let's call it -- on Gingrich's record. But I think Gingrich just says, "Look, Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts for four years; I was speaker of the House for four years. When I was speaker of the House, I took over in '95; the budget deficit was $200 billion. When I left in November of '98, the budget was in surplus for $70 million. When I became minority whip of the House in 1989, Republicans were in the minority. When I left, Republicans were in the majority. We passed welfare reform. We did other conservative things."
I think Newt can defend his record pretty effectively against -- by contrast with Mitt Romney's.
WILLIAMS: Well, the best to say about Newt Gingrich is that lots of people think he's the smartest guy in the room and, when he enters the room, people are just overwhelmed by the ideas and the proposals that pour forth from Newt Gingrich.
But the fact is, in just hard political terms, if you're a Democrat and you're looking at Newt Gingrich as the likely opponent to Barack Obama, maybe the analogy is like those balloons that will float down Central Park for Thanksgiving. At any moment, any one of those trees along the way could poke it and the balloon explodes. And that's what's going on with Newt Gingrich.
Any moment, you say, oh, my gosh, I forgot about that baggage; I forgot about the insurance problem, you know. It's just too much at some point. You just have to wonder. So it's not about Mitt Romney -- I think it is about Mitt Romney. It's not about Newt. It's about Mitt Romney. Why is it that everybody comes along and challenges Mitt; Mitt can't get above that limit of 23 percent to 25 percent?
WALLACE: Let me just go back, and we've only got a couple of minutes, Brit, to go back to Newt. Because as Bill points out, I mean, there is a lot to like about Newt. He was -- if you are a conservative Republican. He was the guy who -- the Republican revolution in 1994. He brought the Republicans back from the wilderness into the majority for the first 40 years.
HUME: Huge achievement.
WALLACE: And welfare reform, balanced budget, a lot of things. On the other hand, even his record as speaker is checkered.
HUME: That's true. I don't dispute a word that Bill said about the things that happened while he was speaker. Of course, the president of the United States, Mr. Clinton had a hand in a lot of that and so did -- when it comes to balancing the budget, so did a booming U.S. economy. It was the .com to be sure, but it produced a gusher of tax receipts, which has played a big role in bringing us to the surface, as Bill has mentioned.
But he did have a checkered period as speaker. He was the only speaker in the United States history ever reprimanded for ethic's violation for which he paid a $300,000 penalty. And in addition to that, of course, he was nearly ousted in a mutiny by his own troops in the House in 1997 and was finally basically forced to step down in 1998. And he became, during that period, a kind of a poster child for Republican excess. And he was the guy that was a favored whipping boy.
Could he be made into that again is the question if he was nominee for president? And I think that that's the question the Republicans have to worry about. Could he be successfully portrayed as a guy who is way out there and too erratic and extreme for the voters in multi-hundred million dollar ad campaign mounted by the Obama camp.