Newt Gingrich on Obama's Preacher Problem

This is a rush transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," March 18, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, damage control — Barack Obama, as you know, today, trying to distance himself from those fiery comments made by his former pastor.


REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Not God bless America. God damn America — that's in the Bible — for killing innocent people. God damn America.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.

I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother ... a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.


CAVUTO: Did Obama succeed today?

With us now, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, author of the bestseller "Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works."

What do you think, Newt?

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look, I think it was a great speech. And I think he's a great speechmaker.

I also think it was, intellectually, fundamentally dishonest. To reduce a 20-year relationship with a public figure to his grandmother is just wrong. It's emotionally powerful, but it's just wrong. I mean, the core question that Senator Obama has to answer is very simple. For 20 years, he was a member of a church where he now says his pastor, a public figure, was saying things — forget that they were hateful — forget that they were divisive — they were wrong. They were fundamentally, factually wrong.

And yet, Senator Obama, this figure of change, never once had the courage, never once thought it was his job, to sit down with this person who's so close to him, he can't repudiate him, and say to him, "You know, Reverend, I really at admire you, but you're just wrong about these things. They're not true"?

CAVUTO: Well, what would you have liked to have heard out of Senator Obama today? Reject the whole friendship, reject a 20-year relationship?

GINGRICH: No, explain it.

I think he owes it to the country to give us an honest, candid report. How could he — remember, everything we have seen on TV comes off the DVDs sold by the church. I mean, these weren't taken by some secret right-wing group filming. The church was selling these. Now...

CAVUTO: So, when Obama says, these kinds of rants are more the exception than the norm, you're not buying that?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, you if accuse the government of the United States of inventing AIDS in order to kill black people, that's a pretty gigantic exception. It is a fundamental dishonestly. It teaches anti-patriotism. It undermines the United States as a country. And it teaches young people something fundamentally dishonest.

CAVUTO: Do you think — giving him the benefit of the doubt, do you think he might not have known that? Because, apparently, Obama's always been someone who has been entertaining presidential ambitions, right? And, if he knew that just his association sitting in that church would compromise that, don't you think he would address that?

GINGRICH: Look, this is a campaign which was able to find Geraldine Ferraro's in the 12th paragraph of an article in an obscure newspaper.

This is a campaign — he is, after all, a "Harvard Law Review" editor. His wife is a brilliant lawyer. These — these folks are — do tremendous homework. And they didn't quite ever vet their own church? In fact, that's dishonest. He knew before the campaign — and — and has said publicly — that they, he the reverend, talked about the fact that he might at some point have to disown him.

Now, here's the question.

CAVUTO: If fact, on his election, day he announced, he didn't want the reverend there.


So, here's the question. If you knew a year ago that he was saying things so dishonest, so anti-American, so hateful that you were going to have to disown him, then, as a study in change and a study in idealism and a study in courage, why did you only disown him when it became such a big political issue?

And, if you thought what he was saying was false and wrong and to be condemned, why didn't you care enough for him to try to teach him the truth? And I don't think he can have it both ways.

CAVUTO: Well, he likened it to someone of that generation, for whom it's very difficult to give a different opinion.

You're not buying it?

GINGRICH: Well, if he can't give a different opinion to Reverend Wright, who he has known for 20 years, I sure don't want him visiting the dictator Ahmadinejad, or visiting the younger Castro brother, or visiting...

CAVUTO: So, you think, clearly, this is an issue that will continue to resonate and hurt him?


GINGRICH: This is a core question of character.

This is — how you can ask he me to believe that this guy who has said he wanted to visit Kim Jong Il — you know, the United States ought to — the president of the United States ought to talk to anybody.

If he can't even talk to his own pastor, I mean, one of two things is true. Either he's always believed these are terrible things, in which case he showed a remarkable lack of courage in describing to his own minister the truth, or he didn't actually mind it, as long as it wasn't public.

Now, I think he owes it to the country — I wish he had given us a speech to tell us which of those were true.

CAVUTO: So, repudiating the words after the fact, you think it doesn't matter; most Americans will hear and understand that speech and say, not good enough?


GINGRICH: Repudiating the words after the fact is a study of political convenience by a politician desperately trying to get elected and hoping you will forget that, for 20 years, he didn't do it.

CAVUTO: Does Hillary Clinton benefit from all this?

GINGRICH: Well, I mean, she indirectly benefits just because I think this dramatically slows down the momentum of the idealistic, change- oriented, larger-than-life super leader who was somehow beyond reproach, and — and I think him to being a normal pol.

This is a guy who is a politician, who tried to get by with something. It failed. And now he would like to us to allow him to pretend that he really didn't notice it. And he would like us to pretend that his saying, when he's caught — which is what has happened — he's been caught in public being associated with associated with somebody who says hateful things about America and false things about America — and now he wants to say, oh, please.

And that's just a behavior of a normal politician.

CAVUTO: So, in the end, that's what it comes down to? And, in the end, the American people have to decide whether they're OK with it.

GINGRICH: Do you want to trust somebody to pick a Supreme Court judge who, in 20 years, claims he did not notice a preacher who is — who is a vivid, powerful preacher?

It's not like this guy is boring...


GINGRICH: ... and you slept through his sermons.

CAVUTO: He's fairly animated.


So, he wants us to believe that, for 20 years, he didn't quite notice Reverend Wright, but, boy, he would really be subtle about picking the right Supreme Court judge.

I think he puts all of his judgment and credibility on the line.

CAVUTO: All right. Newt Gingrich, always good seeing you, my friend.

GINGRICH: Good to see you.

CAVUTO: Thank you very much.


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