A Candid Conversation With Newt Gingrich on 'Hannity'

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," November 30, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: And welcome to this special edition of "Hannity." And today, we are on the campaign trail. We are in Greenville, South Carolina, at Tommy's Country Ham House. Now over the next hour, I will be joined by the man that is now considered by many to be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He is the author of "The Battle of the Crater," he's the former speaker of the House.

Newt Gingrich, how are you?


HANNITY: Great to be with you.

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    Real Clear Politics -- and we look at a national poll -- it has you up by about two-and-a-half points right now. You are leading in Iowa. Here in South Carolina, you are up. There was a poll that came out this morning that had you at 41 percent in the state of Florida and you were pretty close to Governor Romney in New Hampshire. What's changed?

    GINGRICH: I think the debates, shows like yours, talk radio, have let the American people look at real solutions. And I think at a time when we are hurting financially, we are hurting in jobs, we are hurting in the deficit, we're hurting in foreign policy, having somebody who is a serious developer of better solutions and somebody who has a track record of actually doing it in Washington, all of a sudden kind of gels. And we've had four town hall meetings in South Carolina the last two days. We've had 2,500 people come to this town. We turned people away in several places. We had -- in Florida over the weekend, 800 people at a town hall meeting, 900 people at a book signing.

    I mean, you can feel suddenly people talking to each other. We are getting closer to the first vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, here in South Carolina. And so, people are now taking it more seriously. And as they are taking it more seriously, they are leaving slogans to go to solutions and I think that's beginning to consolidate.

    HANNITY: It seems to be a little back and forth now developing between the candidates.

    GINGRICH: Sure.

    HANNITY: And Mitt Romney is saying that you have been a life-long politician, and you are making the observation that you think you are the more conservative and more electable candidate. Your reaction.

    GINGRICH: First of all, I am a life-long citizen. I decided -- my dad was a career soldier, 27 years in the infantry. I decided when we were living in Europe when I was 15 that trying to understand what America needed to do to survive, how you would explain it to the American people to get their permission to do it and how you would implement it, would be my life's work. So, I plead guilty to being a citizen who has worked as a teacher, I worked as a speaker in public life, I have worked in elected office, I have worked in private business. In every case, I have thought of citizenship as a key part of how I would define myself. And I think that's something we need more of, not less of.

    HANNITY: Why do you think that you are the more conservative candidate? Why do you think that you are more electable?

    GINGRICH: I think those are two very different questions. I think -- I'm clearly the more conservative candidate by any rational standard. I mean, I had a 90 percent American conservative union standing for 20 years. I helped Ronald Reagan and Jack Kennedy develop supply-side economics. I help led the effort to defeat communism in the Congress. I helped the Speaker of the House balance the federal budget for four straight years, reform welfare as an entitlement. The first tax cuts in 16 years have been take whatever your list of conservatism is, there are places in my career where I have done that stuff. You know, I have been consistent about it. I mean I was for Ronald Reagan long before people began just to quote him. So, that part I think, there is no contest.

    The electability thing has questions how you think elections work. I think in the Reagan tradition and the tradition of 1994 in the contract, if you get a real contrast in a country which is more than two to one conservative, the liberal loses. But you have to have the courage to fight your way through The New York Times, and through CBS News and through MSNBC, and be steady in drawing the contrast.

    So, I think the person who is able to debate Obama and draw a sharp and defined contrast has an enormous advantage. I don't think you'd go to the middle, you bring the middle to you. For example, American energy is a 79 percent issue. The New York Times thinks the middle is between 79 and the 16 percent who aren't for it. I think the middle is 50 percent. That means you get 50 percent plus 29.

    HANNITY: Let me ask, because it's interesting. On the other hand, you sort of take it on the role during the debates of a statesman. You have praised Mitt Romney, you have praised Governor Perry, you have praised Herman Cain in the debates and you have even said publicly that you don't think we should be firing at each other, that we ought to be, you know, united in opposing President Obama's policies.

    GINGRICH: Yes. And look, I still feel that way. Michele Bachmann did introduce the first bill to repeal Dodd-Frank. That's a good thing. She did introduce a bill to repeal Obamacare. That's a good thing. She was a lot wiser about the Super Committee than most of the folks are in Congress. So, I can say that Michele Bachmann brings a lot to the table.

    Herman Cain is a very good businessman who has been a very public and spirited -- I helped appoint him to the Jack Kemp tax reform commission back in the '90s. He's a solid person in that sense.

    Governor Romney is a great manager, has a terrific business career, would be I think far better than President Obama.

    You know, and even go down the list. I mean, I think that these are -- Rick Santorum is a genuine expert on Iran and foreign policy. And he is probably the most deeply committed person on how do we rebuild the family as the base of American life.

    So, I look at my friends, and I think of them as my friends. I have one opponent, Barack Obama.

    HANNITY: Well, you stated maybe a couple of weeks back in an interview that I did with you, that you thought the race would come down to Romney versus anti-Romney.

    GINGRICH: Not Romney.

    HANNITY: Not Romney, OK.

    GINGRICH: Yes.

    HANNITY: And not necessarily.

    GINGRICH: Not necessarily anti, just not Romney.

    HANNITY: Yes. OK. Not Romney. Is that now, now mean Newt versus Romney?

    GINGRICH: Well, I think the dynamic --

    HANNITY: Because we are about a month away from the Iowa caucuses.

    GINGRICH: Yes. But I think the dynamic is changing in a way that you and I wouldn't have thought possible, OK?

    HANNITY: And that is?

    GINGRICH: And that is -- I stop for a second, thinking back about the period where I kept telling you Hillary was going to be nominated and you kept telling me I was wrong. And you were right. Remember, I called at one point and said, I think I have to eat crow.

    HANNITY: No. It wasn't quite that way.


    I think what you criticized me -- you thought I was a little off base on Obama about Ayers and Wright and some of those...

    GINGRICH: I did. And turns out, you were the most pressing analyst of the...

    HANNITY: This interview is going great so far but...


    GINGRICH: So, in the same tradition of being honest and open, I didn't think this fast that we would get to where it might be Newt and not Newt. But the fact is the ideas are penetrating in the country, the crowds are responding, people love the idea of seven three-hour debate in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition with the time keeper and no moderator. People like the degree to which the -- if you go to Newt.org, there's a really substantive 21st century contract with America.

    And so, I'm beginning to think, I'm not sure yet, but I think we may actually see a totally different dynamic than anybody could have predicted even a month ago, including me. Because a month ago, I didn't think we would get here for another 60 days. But it's clear the country is talking to itself. And it's clear that across the country people are saying, you know, I think we need Newt Gingrich because we need somebody who can debate Obama, we need somebody who has actually done it before, we need somebody with very substantial big ideas.

    And so, I think whereas I would have thought originally, it was going to be Mitt and not Mitt, I think it may turn out to be Newt and not Newt. And that's a very different formula than frankly -- so, I'm having to redesign our campaign strategy because we are at least 60 days ahead of where I thought we would be.

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