OTR Interviews

Gingrich Lays Down Gauntlet to Romney: Bring Your Ads and Debate Me for 90 Minutes

GOP presidential frontrunner blasts Romney super Pac's negative ads, challenges rival to debate and to take responsibility for former staffers


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. He joins us from New Hampshire. Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, I suppose the big news I should ask you about first is that on the radio today, in Iowa, you challenged Governor Mitt Romney to a debate, any time, any place. I take it that's in anticipation of the caucus on January 3rd. But why?

GINGRICH: Well, the governor suggested, when I indicated that I thought his false and misleading ads ought to be taken down and that his excuses that his staff and his donors were beyond his control were silly, he said, if I can't take the heat, I could get out of the kitchen, quoting Harry Truman.

So I said, I'm pretty happy taking the heat. Why doesn't he join me in the kitchen? Let's just do one on one for 90 minutes with a timekeeper and no moderator. He can bring his ads.

And you know, one of his ads this morning got four "Pinocchios" from the fact checker at The Washington Post. It's very hard to get four Pinocchios in a 30-second ad. It means virtually nothing was true.

So I was simply suggesting to the governor, if he wants to talk about heat and kitchens, I'd be pretty happy to get in the kitchen with him. Let's talk about the ads that his people have been running that are clearly false and misleading, that ought to be taken down. They're planning to spend $1.4 million in Iowa next week running attack ads against me. I just want 90 minutes to be able to indicate what's true and what's not true.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you talk about the ads. Just so that we're absolutely clear -- and I'm not -- I mean, I know that there's a legal distinction and perhaps there's a political distinction, as well. But there are the super-PAC ads, for which a candidate supposedly can have no fingerprints on it, but they're -- are people who people are generally supporters of a candidate. And there are the campaign or the candidates' ads.

The ones that are coming at you like a mack truck, are those super-PAC ads or are those Romney campaign ads?

GINGRICH: Well, they're Romney's former staff running a PAC that is funded by Romney's millionaire friends. The idea that he can't go public, which he's legally allowed to do, and publicly say, These ads are false, please quit running them, I hope you'll just run positive ads -- I mean, he could -- he could turn them around in two hours if he simply held a press conference, announced that he'd actually looked at the ads, found them to be unacceptable, and he wanted to run a positive campaign.

As you know, I've steadily all through the debates tried to focus on being positive. I believe Republicans attacking Republicans helps one person, Barack Obama. I think these ads are destructive and they're dishonest. The governor ought to take responsibility. It's his former staff and his millionaire friends who are running these ads. He clearly could publicly direct them to go positive, and they would go positive.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we know -- or how can you convince -- because I know that you've taken the position that you're not going to go after another Republican -- how do we know that if you didn't have these rich millionaire friends who had a super-PAC or you didn't have, like, money coming over the transom to your campaign, that you wouldn't be doing likewise, the same thing, about opponents?

GINGRICH: Well, at the period when I was at the very bottom and people thought I had no hope, I stayed positive. In the period when I was coming back and people thought I was a long shot, I stayed positive. Those are the periods, normally, when you start attacking people.

I've been -- if you go to Newt.org, you'll see layer after layer of new ideas, new solutions, new approaches. I want to have a positive campaign first because I think we're in real trouble as a country and we need to have a positive conversation to find solutions that bring the American people together to get beyond the sort of chaotic mess that Washington has become.

And second, because I think it hurts Republicans. I'm a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe in the 11th commandment. Don't fight other Republicans because that just helps Barack Obama. Focus on the voter in a positive way. Let the best person win, and then let's all get together to defeat Obama.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, how are you going to communicate this offer to Governor Romney? I mean, I'm sure he's not sitting around, listening to the radio in Iowa. Are you actually going to make a formal -- are you going to make a phone call to him or send a note over or e-mail or maybe even a tweet?

GINGRICH: Greta, you know his campaign watches your show. So we just communicated with him. Of course he knows what I'm saying. He has lots and lots of highly paid consultants. Many of them are assigned just to watch what we're doing. So I'm sure they've reported to him. And if they haven't, I'm sure some reporter by tomorrow morning is going to ask him, Is he prepared to back up his ads by showing up somewhere in Iowa for 90 minutes and being willing to go one on one and be willing defend the ads that his staff and his donors have been running.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are the odds you think that he's going to take you up on the deal? I know what I think the odds are, but what do you think the odds are?


GINGRICH: Look, I think he wants to run a campaign where he pretends to be positive, while all of the dirty work is done by his former staffers. I don't think the people of Iowa are that dumb. And I think that Governor Romney has two choices. He can come out like a real citizen and say, Let's go positive, or he can hide and people will understand these are his ads from his people.

They're negative. They're nasty. And The Washington Post has said today the one of them is so wrong, it got not one Pinocchio, not two Pinocchios, not three Pinocchios, got four Pinocchios. Do you know how hard it is to write an ad that's that wrong?

VAN SUSTEREN: And what's it like -- I'm curious -- like, backstage on these debates? I mean, do you have -- are you, like, next to each other, I mean, backstage when the cameras aren't on? Do you talk and shake hands and say, This is just politics...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... you know, no harm, no foul? I mean, like, what's it like?


VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, because it's rather -- I mean -- I mean, even Representative Ron Paul's going at you pretty hard. I mean, is everyone still sort of chummy and friendly backstage?

GINGRICH: Oh, I think -- I think there's a little more tension. You know, people were very nice to me as long as I was at 5 percent. Now that I'm either the front-runner or tied to be the front-runner, they're not as nice. And I understand that.

Plus, we're getting closer to the vote. It's a little bit like any other competitive environment. All of a sudden, people are a little tense, a little focused, who's going to survive, who isn't going to survive? It's a little bit like "Survivor" or -- you know, who's going to be voted off the island next week? So it's a little more tense.

And then, frankly, on my side, I find having millions of dollars spent in Iowa to run false ads by several candidates frankly pretty disgusting and pretty well below the belt and wrong. We ought to be able to have a presidential campaign where people -- I don't mind people reporting my record accurately, but people who are running things that are fundamentally and profoundly false, I don't take that very kindly. And I suspect the next cycle of debates won't be quite as pleasant because of that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we only have a minute and-a-half, and I meant to get to this earlier, but I neglected to. The sort of chaos on Capitol Hill right now -- do you have any sort of thoughts or reflections as everyone sort of battles over this payroll tax extension and the "doc fix."

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, John Boehner's right and the Republicans in the House are right. Pass a one-year extension. This idea of a two-month extension is absurd. The Senate is just utterly irresponsible, this idea that they pass something, they go home without the job getting done.

And the president's being cynically political. I mean, I don't know how long he thinks he can be candidate-in-chief and not do his job as president. But to have this kind of manipulation makes us look like Italy in one of its worst parliamentary crises. The whole country looks bad around the world when Washington melts down with this kind of childish behavior.

Pass it for a year. Speaker Boehner has the right approach. Get it done. Don't come back for another crisis in February and another crisis in May. Just get it done. The House is prepared to pass it for a year. I think the Senate ought to come back and get the job done.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we're a little bit on holiday watch here, vacation watch, to see, you know, who does -- you know, who does come back, who's, you know -- like, I only know -- I can only tell you this, that if I didn't show up for work, if I didn't do my job, I think FOX would get rid of me pretty quickly. And when there's breaking news, it's all hands on deck.

And the American people I think probably thought this would be done before the last minute. But once again, we're standing, waiting. And I'm taking the last word on that.

Nice to see you, Mr. Speaker. Enjoy New Hampshire and Iowa.

GINGRICH: Merry Christmas.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and enjoy actually, Iowa, as well. It's going to be a busy couple weeks. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: And do have a Merry Christmas.