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Welcome to Newt York.
Former House Speaker and currently surging GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich headed into the belly of the liberal beast Monday, meeting with Donald Trump, fundraising in Midtown, slamming Nancy Pelosi, needling reporters who asked about his controversial comments about poor children — and declaring he wants to run a 50-state campaign that puts New York in play.
The high-profile string of events culminated with an appearance at an off-the-record conservative confab known as the Monday Meeting — and underscored how little Gingrich’s strategy has to do with boots on the ground in early states, and everything to do with messaging and his celebrity status.
It was Gingrich’s second trip in two days, following a day of events and a Mike Huckabee candidate forum on Fox News on Saturday.
“Why wouldn’t you want to come and hang out [with Donald Trump]? …I like being in New York City at Christmas,” Gingrich told reporters who packed into the lobby of Trump Tower, as he held a joint press conference with Trump, the developer and reality TV star whose endorsement he’s hoping for.
Gingrich said he talked Trump into agreeing to sponsor 10 “apprenticeships” (get it?) for children attending the poorest schools in New York City — a move that may not meet with city Department of Education approval. But it seemed aimed at quelling some of the controversy over the former House Speaker’s proposal that children younger than 10 ought to replace janitors in the poorest schools so they can learn the importance of work.
He described Trump as an “American icon,” and defended him from criticisms from Ron Paul over his role hosting a debate sponsored by NewsMax scheduled for Dec. 27.
“I’m actually very surprised that one of my friends would have said” that it debased the process, Gingrich said.
“This is a country that elected a peanut farmer to the presidency, that elected an actor who had made two movies with a chimpanzee to the presidency. This is a country of enormously wide-open talent. Donald Trump is a great showman. He’s also a great businessman,” Gingrich said.
“If we’re trying to figure out how to create jobs, I think one of the differences between my party and the other party is, we actually go to people who know how to create jobs to figure out how to create jobs. And so when I was asked whether or not I was willing to be in that kind of a debate, I automatically said yes. I think that we have to be open to new ways of doing things and new ways of approaching things.”
The larger-than-life Trump, who typically holds court at his own building and who is now firmly back in the news thanks to the debate and a new book, mostly ceded the spotlight to Gingrich, praising him and saying he won’t make an endorsement until after that debate — and didn’t reveal a preference.
Gingrich stepped back from the microphone as a reporter called out a question about whether he was concerned about being away from Iowa for so long — he is not scheduled to return to the Hawkeye State until Saturday, when he’ll hold a town hall meeting (paired, as usual, with a book signing that he and wife Callista will hold).
Then it was on to the Union League Club, a venerable Midtown establishment where he held a fundraiser with no host committee, and just one host, a local lawyer whose name isn’t a known quantity on the fundraising circuit. However, roughly 100 people packed the room, as Gingrich fielded a range of questions, including on the “baggage” he brings to the race.
Gingrich lauded his campaign as “decentralized,” as he insisted he can keep pace with the better-funded, better-organized Mitt Romney. He blasted consultants whom he suggested milk campaigns — a clear dig, and a now-familiar one, at the strategists who departed his effort en masse and then talked anonymously about how he and his wife handled themselves.
He is not perfect, he told the group, and his answer about his family, and what types of business he’s engaged in since leaving Congress, seemed to satisfy the room, according to an attendee.
Gingrich also held a press conference post-fundraiser, to talk about his goal of winning New York — far from an early state, and not one that is likely, given its liberal leanings, to be hospitable to the former Speaker in a general election.
But the topic gave Gingrich an opening to look past the primary toward the general elections strategy, just as Mitt Romney has been doing as each of his left-for-dead rivals has raced past him. As a bonus, it kept reporters away from the dozen or so protesters noisily chanting across the street.
Gingrich got in a direct dig at Romney, when he was asked by POLITICO whether the former Massachusetts governor — who has been defining his opponent as a lifelong politician — is one himself.
“I don’t know that you ought to count running for the Senate in 1994, running for governor, then running for president for six years,” Gingrich said. “I don’t know whether that makes him a career politician or not. I’ll let you decide.”
But he went on: “It’s fair to say I’ve been a successful candidate a number of times. It’s also fair to say that as a citizen I’ve been very proud of the fact I started working, as a citizen, at 15 years of age, because I think that citizenship is very important. And I would hope that Governor Romney would think of himself as a citizen.”
He also dinged Pelosi, one of his successors as House speaker, who had intimated to Talking Points Memo that at the correct time, she’d share what she learned during a House ethics investigation into Gingrich in the 1990s.
“That is a fundamental violation of the rules of the House,” Gingrich said, calling it an “early Christmas gift” from her. “I would hope that members would immediately file charges against her the second she does it. I think it tells you how capriciously political that committee was when she was on it. I think it tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it….I regard as a useful education for the American people to see what a tainted political ethics operation Nancy Pelosi was engaged in.”
He said he hoped the House would condemn her if she did it. (Pelosi later said she was “clearly referring to the extensive amount of information that is in the public record.”)
As for his comments, made at an appearance at Harvard’s Kennedy School a few weeks back, on having young children serve as janitors, Gingrich tried to clarify them.
He started out by asking for a show of hands from the crowd about how many reporters or photographers there had worked for cash before the age of 10. The reporters stared back blankly, most not wanting to participate in an exercise.
Gingrich said, “Take some of those kids who are in danger of dropping out. What if they were the assistant clerk in the front office? What if they helped in the kitchen?”
He went on later, “I do not suggest children until about 14 or 15 years of age do heavy, dangerous janitorial work…On the other hand, there are a number of things done to clean buildings that are not heavy or dangerous.”
Gingrich suggested the idea had been deliberately “distorted” by people for political gain and added that his spokesman, R.C. Hammond, had learned computers at school by doing some extra work.
After that, it was several more hours of private meetings, and then off to the Grand Hyatt for the conservative confab known as the Monday Meeting, widely attended by New York right-leaning influentials and an opportunity for candidates to meet donors.
That was followed by another book signing.