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Transcript of Mitt Romney campaign's Newt Gingrich bash-a-thon

Here's the transcript, supplied by Republican Mitt Romney's campaign, of a conference call it hosted to raise questions about new presidential GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich:

OPERATOR: Welcome to today’s Romney for President conference call. Here Ms. Gail Gitcho will now begin.
GAIL GITCHO: Good morning everyone. Thanks for joining this call today. With us on the line we have Sen. Jim Talent and Gov. John Sununu. They’re going to make some opening remarks on Speaker Gingrich’s record and then we will open it up for questions and answers. So Sen. Talent, if you’d like to begin, go ahead.
SEN. JIM TALENT: Well thank you Gail and Gov. Sununu and I are here to specifically contrast Mitt Romney’s record with regard to Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan with Speaker Gingrich’s record. They are, of course, as of today anyway, the two leader prospects for the Republican nomination. Gov. Romney is a proven and effective leader with vast experience in the business world, in the non-profit world and in government. And in every capacity in which he has ever served, he has been effective as a leader. In turning around and helping very troubled institutions, he can do the same thing for this country. He’ll beat Barack Obama by the biggest possible margin, bring in the most conservative votes with him and then he has the proven ability to implement an agenda as a leader that’s going to save this country and pull it back from the dangers that it now faces. That’s the basis on which he’s running. And the other candidate is Speaker Gingrich. The Speaker’s running as a reliable and trusted conservative leader and what we’re here to say with reluctance but clearly is that he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable or trustworthy leader. I say that with reluctance. As a person who had the Speaker as my leader for four years in the 1990s, but it’s because of that experience that I say it. Now Speaker Gingrich says interesting and insightful things. He can explain them well. On many occasions he also says outrageous things that come from nowhere and he has a tendency to say them at exactly the time when they most undermine the conservative agenda. That’s why Suzy Molinari has said what she’s said about him and that’s why Pete King has and Tom Coburn has and that’s why we’re here today. Now the example we want to talk about today is the Ryan Plan. We want to contrast how Gov. Romney responded to that with how Speaker Gingrich responded. Just a moment of context, I’m going to try and be brief because we want to leave a lot of time for questions. As you all know, the Ryan Budget was the center of the conservative effort to resolve the issues that are confronting the country and that are still confronting the country regarding the deficit and the budget and the Ryan Medicare Plan was the center of his budget. It was a good plan. At its heart its purpose its intent was to empower senior citizens for choice and competition. To get the waste out of Medicare so that the dollars can go to what they’re supposed to go to, which is quality care for this generation of seniors and the next generation of seniors so that the program would be affordable and also sustain its high quality and that’s what Gov. Romney said about it. He complemented the plan. He responded to it the way a good leader does. He said he appreciated it. He emphasized how important it was to reform Medicare. He said would announce his own plan. There would be many similarities to the Ryan Plan and that’s exactly what he did. And he announced a plan with substantial and important reforms of Medicare that would save the program. I think it was complemented yesterday or today in the Wall Street Journal. Well how did Speaker Gingrich respond? Well he said it was “right wing social engineering,” it was radical change and it was a conservative version of Obamacare. And that was just inaccurate. It wasn’t any of those things. It was the lead effort by the movement of which the Speaker is a part to reform Medicare and, in doing that, save that program and help save the federal budget. The Speaker’s remarks just came from nowhere. It’s exactly what we’re talking about. Paul Ryan was completely blindsided and that’s why he said “look, with allies like this, you know, who needs the enemies on the left?” So then how did the Speaker respond when he was criticized for those comments? He reaffirmed them first in the interview, then he called up Paul Ryan to apologize and then months later he said he hadn’t attacked Paul Ryan in fact he had and then, a few days after that, he reaffirmed the basis of the attacks. So, look, we don’t have a lot of time. Gov. Sununu has comments. I’ll just conclude by saying the stakes are very high in this election. That’s why I’m here today saying these things as reluctantly as I am about saying them. If Mitt Romney is the nominee, we have a proven leader who understands the economy with a record of turning around the troubled organizations that he has lead. The election is going to about, if Romney is the nominee, Obama’s failed policies and we have an excellent chance to win and then do what needs to be done. If the nominee is Newt Gingrich, then the election is going to be about the Republican nominee which is exactly what the Democrats want. They know if this election’s about Obama and his policies, they’re in trouble. If they can make it about the Republican nominee, then the president is going to win and that’s exactly why they’re pursuing the strategy they’re pursuing now, attacking Mitt Romney in advertisements because they’re hoping that the nominee is not going to be Gov. Romney. That’s my remarks, I’ll turn it over to Gov. Sununu.

GOV. JOHN SUNUNU: Thank you Senator. Paul Ryan is a thoughtful, smart conservative Republican. Paul Ryan worked with the Republican leadership in the House and his colleagues to address the most critical issue facing the country today: the huge deficit and the issue of entitlement reform. They didn’t pick a plan out of the air. They worked hard on it. They understood the details. They understood the reality of what’s wrong with the entitlement program. It was clear that the Republican leadership in the House and Republican leadership on the conservative side was relying on and counting on the Ryan Plan as being the cornerstone of what they would like to accomplish in Congress. For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self-aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that has no other purpose than to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan, is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one can imagine happening. He gave the liberals and the Democrats the ammunition they needed to moot, if you will, at least for the time being, Paul Ryan’s presentation. Mitt Romney supports what Paul Ryan did. He endorsed what Paul Ryan did. Mitt Romney had his own package of entitlement reform, which Paul Ryan has praised. They both meshed together. They are both based on really understanding entitlement reform. And Gingrich is undercutting of Paul Ryan proves that he is more concerned about Newt Gingrich than he is about conservative principle. I’ll leave it there and let you go to questions.
GITCHO: Thank you, we’ll go ahead and take questions now.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, if you have any questions, please press the number one key on your phones. Again, if you have any questions or comments, please press the number one key on your phone.
JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS: Hi, Senator Talent. I want to ask a two part question the first is do you think that under Speaker Gingrich’s leadership when he was in the House that the budget could have been balanced and welform have been reformed? And after those two questions, if you could give us a sense of something that for the conservative movement—for conservative principles—something in that scale that you could point to in Mitt Romney’s history that would be of equal magnitude?
SEN. TALENT: Well sure. Let me just take the second part of the question first. In Massachusetts, the governor inherited a huge deficit, he cut spending, issued hundreds of vetoes, turned it around and emerged with a surplus. He inherited an economy that was in trouble and cut regulations, turned that around so that he had an economy that was producing jobs. I think that one of the things that makes Governor Romney such a compelling candidate is the history of his life experience is a record of doing exactly what we need to do at this time. I mean, this is a case where the moment is finding the man in the case of presidential politics. Now look, in the 1990s, we were able to accomplish some good things. And the team that…did it in a lot of different areas is the same team that concluded with the same reluctance that I have today that Speaker Gingrich could not continue as our leader. I mean yes we got some things done, but we also reached the conclusion after four years that we also could not go on with him as our leader and continue accomplishing things and that was exactly because of the kinds of things that he just did to Paul Ryan. You were in a situation where you would get up in the morning, and you would have the to check the newspaper, the clippings, that was before the internet, to see what the speaker had said that day that you were going to have to clean up after in your own district and I again, I don’t like saying this, but it’s exactly why we did what we did.
GOV. SUNUNU: May I, may I add to that? It is really important to see what he did to Paul Ryan as just the latest in a pattern of anti-principled actions that really irritated his own leadership and produced 88 percent of the Republicans in Congress voting for his reprimand. Paul Ryan’s plan which Mitt Romney supported is the solid basis for moving forward on entitlement reform. And Newt Gingrich not only rejected it then, but he rejected repeatedly by saying I was right what I said that it was wrong and the fact is that Newt Gingrich to this day still continues to undermine Paul Ryan.
MARK HALPERIN, TIME: Gentlemen, I’d like you both to just briefly answer the same two questions: One, your experiences with Newt Gingrich, are you fully confident with his being commander-in-chief? Two, you’re starting today with Medicare, can you just lay-out the issues you think you’ll be making the contrast on in the days and weeks?
GOV. SUNUNU: Yes, this is John Sununu. Let me answer that this way: having sat in the White House with a president that was completely reliable, understood completely the depths of which is required to make the kinds of hard decisions the President has to make, I strongly reinforce my endorsement of Mitt Romney as the right man there. The off-the-cuff for example that Gingrich throws out on occasion is a reflection of the off-the-cuff thinking that he goes through to deal with issues and that is not what you want in the commander-in-chief. What he did to Paul Ryan is a perfect example of irrational behavior that you do not want in the commander-in-chief and secondly, this is the time in a campaign where issues will be contrasted between the candidates and I suspect you’re going to hear more than just contrasting styles, you’re going to hear contrasting positions on issues, particularly entitlement reform and you’re certainly going to hear the kinds of things that we discussed on the debate. I don’t want to put a specific list out now. And I have to jump off this call right now, so I’ll leave it to you Senator Talent. I have more than enough confidence you can handle this crowd.
SEN. TALENT: Oh, well that’s—coming from John Sununu, that’s a huge vote of confidence. I appreciate that. I guess I’d put it this way: for a while in the 90s I thought that…I would have phrased it this way I was concerned that Speaker Gingrich was an unreliable leader because sometimes he said and did these kinds of things, but I concluded, in fact, that he says and does those kinds of things because he’s not reliable as a leader. And so it isn’t with respect to a particular area, I mean my concern is that if he’s the nominee, I say this as a Republican, this election is going to be about him and that’s exactly what the Democrats want. Now…what was your other question? Gail, do you remember? Oh, yes about the campaign! I would just say what Governor Sununu said. This is a time for contrasts and contrast on the record and that’s what we’re doing.
LLOYD GROVE, THE DAILY BEAST: Hi, Senator Talent. I was…
GROVE: …such traction in New Hampshire but not he’s gone. Let me ask you is it a comment on Mitt Romney that Gingrich is beating him in three states among Republican voters right now and how is that happening?
SEN. TALENT: I think it’s the fluidness of the primary process. I mean personally I think my party—the Republican party—chooses new sets of leaders slowly, gets used to them slowly and I so just think there’s a lot of people who are very fluid and are not sure what they’re going to do. Now I think, as Governor Sununu said we are entering a time where people are going to be making up their minds and so we do need to talk about records and that does mean contrasting records. But I think what’s happening is you have a block of voters who have sort of parked at one place for a while and then another place for a while and the truth is, they’re still making up their minds. Now, what is true is that Governor Romney has had a strong core of support from different sections of the party and really all parts of the country for months and months. And he will use that core of support to organize, prepare, and so I do think we’re going to be ready to prosecute this election throughout the country and all throughout the primaries.
EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, TPM: “Hi thanks for having me on the call. Just wanted to make it clear about what the voters … you talk about rhetoric and how people have reacted to the Paul Ryan. But is it true that Romney and Gingrich have essentially the same plan when it comes to Medicare that when primary voters go to the polls, they’re both for keeping traditional Medicare in place and maybe putting a voluntary system on top of it. Could you break down the difference between Gingrich and Romney when it comes to Medicare?
SEN. TALENT: “I think the Wall Street Journal did a pretty good job of that. In the first place, I will just reiterate what we said about their responses to the Ryan plan and Governor Romney recognized right away the important features of that plan. Because he knows that we have to introduce competition and choice into this system if we’re going to do the things that we have to do which is to get the inefficiencies and the waste out of the system so that the dollars can be used for quality and access instead of being wasted. And he wants to do that through introducing the principles of competition and choice which is what by the way underlies all his health care policies. If you look at his proposals for national health care policy, that’s what he did. He knows that we need very substantial fundamental change. Now that contrasts favorably both with the Speaker and also, by the way, with Barack Obama who wants to get the waste out of Medicare by rationing the care. That’s what he wants to do. Speaker Gingrich is not proposing anything like substantial change, which is what the Journal said in their article. I mean basically it’s just, he would another option as I understand it. But he would not add another option in a way that introduces the kind of choice and competition that will get the inefficiencies out of the system. So, and I think the reason I’m beginning to conclude, based on the Speaker’s proposal, that the reason he criticized the Ryan Plan is because he really doesn’t like the Ryan Plan and he doesn’t want the kind of fundamental reform that we need to save Medicare and to save the rest of the budget.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from David Corn with Mother Jones magazine. Please go ahead sir.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Thank you Senator for doing this. Talking about the 90s, you raised a question… questions on Newt’s leadership back then. I was wondering if his personal behavior back then raised any concerns for you and other members of the House Republican Conference. And what other concerns of this day?
SEN. TALENT: That wasn’t the reason that we eventually and reluctantly decided that he should not continue as our Speaker. It certainly was not for me, that’s not what we’re here to get into. If we want to contrast the records, the public records, the public statements and the abilities of both candidates as a leader. But not to get into those things.
[Reporter Dropped Call]
OPERATOR: Moving on to the next question. The last question is from Phil Rucker with Washington Post. Go ahead.
PHIL RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST: Hi, thanks for doing this call. Senator Talent, you called that Speaker Gingrich was not a reliable and trustworthy leader and I’m wondering why you think it is that some polls now show that Speaker Gingrich is viewed more favorably, more presidential, better equipped to handle the economy by Republican voters than Gov. Romney.
SEN. TALENT: Well look, I don’t begrudge anybody in the voters and their views. I mean they have to decide who they think is best and they have got to decide based on what they think is important. I’m offering my opinion as a contribution to this process and because I think that the stakes are so huge. It’s the reason I’m doing this despite the fact that I’m reluctant to do it. Anybody on this call who knows me knows I don’t like to go do this sort of thing and to criticize particularly another person in the party. But I just think the stakes are so high, not just for the Republican party but for the country as a whole that we have to do everything that we can to get the person who’s record and who’s life shows that he can be the leader we need at this time. And that’s why I’m doing it.
GITCHO: Sen. Talent, thank you so much for making yourself available to do this call today. We will continue to do these contrast between Mitt Romney and Speaker Gingrich. So we continue to do these phone calls. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to lob them our way.