The following is a partial transcript of the Nov. 19, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: In 12 years, the Republicans went from seizing control of both houses of Congress to once again watching from the sidelines, leaving many GOP leaders wondering where they went wrong. For answers, we turn to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
And welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
GINGRICH: It's good to be with you.
WALLACE: So what do congressional Republicans need to do between now and 2008?
GINGRICH: Well, I think they have to recognize that the country sent them a message. I mean, the first thing Republicans have to do is realize they lost the election. I actually agree with John Kerry about this. Elections matter. The country sent a signal that, on performance, they were unhappy; that there were some scandals that made them even more unhappy; that the conservatives felt the Republicans were not controlling spending the way they wanted to.
And I think that there's got to be some fairly serious soul- searching, not just on Capitol Hill, but in the White House, as Republicans try to understand, you know, where do we go wrong and starting with the State of the Union and the budget and the things that will come up in January, how does the Republican Party get back on message in what had been a growing center-right majority over a 20- year period, starting with Ronald Reagan in 1980.
WALLACE: You call for bipartisanship, but you say that there are two very different choices: that there's one bipartisanship where you try to work with the congressional leaders, with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The other way is what you call conservative bipartisanship, which is to try to peel off some of those conservative so-called 54 Blue Dog Democrats, in effect the way that Ronald Reagan did it in the early '80s.
GINGRICH: Yes, I was a sophomore, a very back-bench, junior congressman when President Reagan reached out and, for example, on his tax cuts, we got 49 Democrats who bolted from Tip O'Neill and the liberals and gave the Republicans a majority on the House floor.
Now, the Republicans in the Senate, of course, are right at the edge of a majority, with 49 votes. The Republicans in the House will be over 200, so they're stronger than they ever were under Ronald Reagan.
When you look at the number of Democrats who won in places like North Carolina, Indiana, Arizona, campaigning as centrist or Blue Dog or conservative, depending on where they were, Democrats, there's the potential that, with the right policies and right choices, that you could consistently have floor control for the conservatives in a bipartisan coalition even though you have a very liberal Democrat speaker.
WALLACE: You wrote an open memo this week in which you said the following, and let's put it up: "Are House Republicans electing a leadership team to be an effective minority or a leadership team to regain the majority?"
Well, on Friday, they chose to keep John Boehner and Roy Blunt as their leaders, both men with strong ties to lobbyists and special interests. And I don't have to tell you, some of your fellow conservatives weren't happy about that. Dick Viguerie said that "we've decided to reward failure." Jeff Flake, congressman from Arizona, said, "We're still in denial."
Does that same team of Boehner and Blunt, do they send the message of change that you say voters want to hear?
GINGRICH: Look, let me start with John Boehner. John Boehner was part of the original reform gang of seven that worked with me when I was the minority whip. John Boehner organized the Contract with America event on the Capitol steps. He was a very visionary leader of the House Republican Conference when I was speaker. And Boehner has only been the majority leader for the last seven or eight months and was not part of how we got in trouble.
Now, he's going to have to decide — and I know John pretty well, and I think he desperately wants to be speaker and not minority leader. He's got to decide, is he going to focus on regaining control of the House, or is he going to focus on being the White House's floor leader? They are very different jobs. And my hope is that Boehner is going to decide that he wants to be the leader who helps the party get back into majority status.
WALLACE: Well, it's interesting you say that, because you seem to indicate that working for House interests is different from working for the White House.
I mean, there's a thing that's run through a number of statements you've said recently: Do you think the White House and President Bush have gone off-track?
GINGRICH: Look, I think every White House is its own world. I mean, President Eisenhower, President Nixon, President Reagan in his last two years. You know, it is inevitable.
The president gets up, and he has a legacy concern. What do I do in the next two years? I hope he'll decide that that legacy is in a bipartisan coalition that helps also, by the way, elect a Republican president in '08.
The House Republicans have a different institutional challenge. How do they reach out in very closely contested districts, recruit the candidates, build the record, create the excitement and the energy to regain a majority?
They're not automatically identical. They can be identical. And I think if they work together and they're serious about it, they can make it identical. But they shouldn't start out every morning assuming that they're the same interests.
WALLACE: I want to press the point about the White House, because you blistered President Bush recently for getting rid of Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld on the day after the election...
WALLACE: ... rather than making this announcement a couple of weeks before. You say if he had done that, that the Republicans would still control the Senate and they might have a lot more seats in the House.
How do you explain the president's actions?
GINGRICH: I don't. I mean, I look at three things we've heard in the last week: dismissing Rumsfeld; General Abizaid saying we needed to change tactics in Iraq; and reports that the Baker-Hamilton commission has been talking with Syria. And I look at a level of flexibility, which apparently was going on before the election, which is the opposite of what the American people were being told.
And I believe a large part of this election was an effort to send a signal that said you can't just stay the course in Iraq. You have to have flexibility. You have to find a way to get to a solution.
So I look at that, and I don't understand why, in mid-October, the president didn't publicly say, you know, "We're going to go through changes. I hear you. We're going to do things differently."
And I think, had he done that — and I've talked to a lot of candidates, including several defeated incumbents, who absolutely believe that, had that been the case by October 15, that you would still have a Republican Senate and you might well have a Republican House.
WALLACE: We asked presidential counselor Dan Bartlett about your criticism last week. He said if the president had made this announcement about Rumsfeld two weeks before the election, it would've looked, one, desperate and, two, political.
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, it's inherently political. I mean, deciding whether to keep the secretary of defense is always inherently political.
But in an election campaign, why wouldn't — this goes back to my point about how White Houses think. Why wouldn't a White House, two weeks before an election in which the largest single issue is Iraq, try to answer the country — not be political in some narrow, cheap, consultant sense, but answer the country, say to the country, "You're right; I hear you"?
And I think it's a huge mistake for White Houses to think that somehow they can ignore the American people. And they usually get punished by the American people deciding to send a stronger and stronger signal until, finally, they get the message.
WALLACE: What do you think of Nancy Pelosi? And as a former speaker, how serious is her having this early defeat?
GINGRICH: Well, she's going to be the first woman speaker in American history. She is going to be a very left-wing San Francisco-values speaker. And she should be; she represents San Francisco, and that's honestly her background.
She has to learn to manage the House. I made a number of mistakes when I was speaker. She will make a number of mistakes when she's speaker.
But Republicans, instead of chortling about, you know, the fact that she backed Murtha rather than Hoyer, Republicans need to start by saying, you know, if she has these weaknesses, how come she's going to be speaker? She won.
She and Rahm Emanuel put together a very intelligent campaign. People like Steny Hoyer went out and raised a lot of money. The Democrats took control of the House for the first time in 12 years.
She did make a mistake with Murtha. I think, frankly, backing Jack Murtha and then losing, I think if she appoints Alcee Hastings to be the head of intelligence, that will be a further mistake in the direction of making her far too left-wing and far too insensitive.
But I would say no one should render judgment on her until she's had six months to learn this new job.
WALLACE: Finally — we have a couple of minutes left — let's look ahead to the 2008 presidential race, because once an election's over, we've got to look at the next election.
GINGRICH: That's right. It never ends.
WALLACE: With George Allen and Rick Santorum now apparently out, is there a vacuum on the right for a candidate appealing to true conservatives?
GINGRICH: Well, there's probably a vacuum, but you have to be fair. Governor Mitt Romney is working very hard to fill that vacuum, and may well succeed. Senator McCain would like to find a way to fill that vacuum and is working very hard at it.
WALLACE: Why do conservatives have doubts about John McCain? And are they legitimate?
GINGRICH: Well, I mean, look, I have a fundamental difference with Senator McCain on amnesty for illegal immigrants; on the tax policy, where he was very much against tax cuts; on the question of McCain-Feingold, which I think is the first censorship...
WALLACE: Campaign finance reform.
GINGRICH: ... which I think is the first censorship bill since the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 1790s and I think is a profoundly bad bill and is part of why these last elections were so unendingly negative.
So there are serious principle discussions, but Senator McCain is a relatively solid conservative. He's a very honest, hard-working man. He has a very patriotic record, both in the military and in the Congress. I served with him in the House.
And you'd have to say, you know, either he or Giuliani is the frontrunner right now. And then McCain, in organizational terms, is the frontrunner. So he's a serious man.
I do think on the movement right, in the areas that produced Ronald Reagan and produced Barry Goldwater, there's a yearning for a clearer voice of conservatism. And I think that Mitt Romney has an opportunity to fill that.
WALLACE: You say Mitt Romney. McCain started an exploratory committee this week. Thirty seconds: Are you going to do the same?
GINGRICH: No. We have a program called American Solutions we're working on. And in September of next year, I'll be glad to come back and talk with you about running for president, but not until...
WALLACE: Not until that late?
GINGRICH: Not until September.
WALLACE: Why so late?
GINGRICH: I think it's important for us to focus on solving very big, very real problems. We have lots of time for personal ambition. And I think an awful lot of this early energy is wasted, and we ought to be focusing on, you know, how are you going to compete with China and India, how are you going to solve the problem in Iraq? I mean, real issues that need real solutions.
WALLACE: Mr. Speaker, thank you. Thanks for joining us today. Appreciate it.
GINGRICH: You bet.