Nearly overnight, potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has become a virtual persona non grata in the conservative movement for dismissing the GOP plan to end Medicare Sunday as “right-wing social engineering.” Everyone from House Republicans, to conservative media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, to a conservative voter in Iowa have publicly condemned Gingrich. And today, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), whose state will play a critical role in the 2012 GOP primary, hammered Gingrich’s “absolutely unfortunate” comments. Potential presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty also “explicitly declined to support” Ryan’s Roadmap.
But an increasingly isolated Gingrich has at least one defender on the right: former RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Appearing on CSPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, Steele said he “likes” Gingrich “very much” and defended the former House Speaker’s comments about Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Medicare plan. Steele even suggested that some of Gingrich’s critics may be hypocritical, as many of them haven’t always supported the plan:
HOST: A lot of House Republicans and others in the party are sort of unhappy with him, what are your thoughts on that?
STEELE: Well, I think, I watched Newt respond to that since that interview. … And, you know, you could quibble with the words or whatever and I understand that, but what I think Newt was trying to say is that there are a broad range of budget plans and neither the right nor the left in extreme measures will be able to move with the American people in a new direction. That’s part of the debate. [...]
And keep in mind about the Ryan budget, a lot of the people that are sort of running around and trying to stir up a little cock fight about what Newt Gingrich said, a year a go were saying that the Ryan plan was not their plan. That it was Paul Ryan’s plan, not their plan. … What people don’t endorse today, they’ll endorse tomorrow.
Later in the program, a man called into the show asking why Steele, who is African American, was defending Gingrich after he recently made several racially-tinged comments. Steele again defended Gingrich, suggesting the comment in question was taken out of context. Watch it:
Indeed, before Ryan’s plan was the GOP budget, when it was his “Roadmap,” only 13 House Republicans signed on. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) “and others [in the GOP caucus] are not showing much eagerness to take up the roadmap’s specifics,” the National Review reported in January. Cantor, “like the others, is not championing the roadmap as the House GOP budget strategy.” Of course, the roadmap became the basis of the GOP budget strategy. This morning, Cantor said in a radio interview that Gingrich’s criticism of the Ryan Plan is wrong and that he is guilty of “tremendous misspeak.” Potential presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty also “explicitly declined to support” Roadmap.
Perhaps Steele is returning a favor. Gingrich came to Steele’s defense at a critical time early in Steele’s tenure at the RNC in 2009, when he was being criticized by some within the party. A year later, Gingrich again defended Steele, warning against “inside-the-party cannibalism.” Gingrich also said that Steele’s race made some “old-time Republicans very nervous.” Just a few months before that, Steele had defended Gingrich on charges of racism. In 2008, it was widely rumored that the race for RNC chairman would come down to a runoff between Gingrich and Steele, though Gingrich eventually withdrew.