BOSTON, DEC. 13, 2011…..Newt Gingrich, the latest frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, “changed the way we talk to each other in Washington,” according to a veteran member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, who accused the former U.S. House speaker Monday of vilifying Democrats as corrupt traitors and misfits, rather than simply disagreeing with them.
“No longer is Tip O’Neill wrong, he’s corrupt,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said Monday morning in downtown Boston, characterizing Gingrich’s tone. “He’s good at tactics. You end the conversation saying he’s combative.”
“I always thought Mitt Romney would be the nominee,” he continued. “Out of nowhere, even for those of us who follow this every day, Newt Gingrich has emerged.”
The 12-term Democrat’s comments, at a function hosted by the New England Council, are a window into the strategy Democrats may use to pummel Gingrich, should his lead in the polls translate into a primary victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. During 20 minutes of remarks, Neal cast Gingrich as out of step with even Israelis on America’s policy toward Palestinians and said his proclivity for speaking “based upon the moment” could lead to miscalculations in his leadership.
Neal contrasted his view of Gingrich with his relationship with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, also a member of the U.S. House.
“I don’t agree with [Paul] on anything. But I’ve got to tell you, he’s the nicest guy,” Neal said, predicting Paul would perform better than expected in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, which would portend a long, drawn-out primary battle.
“I think this is going to go on,” Neal said.
Although Massachusetts is expected to fall heavily in President Barack Obama’s favor during next year’s election, Gingrich does have some support in the Bay State, earning the endorsement last week of Red Mass Group, publisher of the conservative blog Red Mass Group.
“Over the past 40 years, the Speaker has been at the forefront of conservative thought. He, along with Jack Kemp, helped develop supply side economics. While in the house in the 1980s he helped guide the Reagan Agenda. As Speaker he ushered in balanced budgets,” Eno wrote in his endorsement message.
“Is he sometimes brash? Yes. Does he have personal problems and foibles? Yes, but who doesn’t? There is no candidate in this race, save Newt Gingrich that understands more fundamentally that this nation is at a crossroads. He understands that large-scale changes in our way of doing business are needed, and that yes, they might be painful in the short-term. There is no candidate that offers a plain-spoken opposition to the empty rhetoric of hope and change, than Newt Gingrich.”
As he has ascended in the polls, Gingrich has emphasized his credentials as the former leader of the U.S. House and often spoken professorially about the nation’s financial challenges and earned favorable reviews for his debate performances. He has also offered some of the sharpest critiques of President Barack Obama and pointedly ripped news outlets hosting debates for stoking conflict among Republican candidates. His critics have already begun weaving in Gingrich’s two extramarital affairs into their talking points, and others have questioned his work as a “historian” for Freddie Mac.
Neal’s remarks came before an audience of lobbyists and officials from Raytheon, Verizon, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Citi, Serlin Haley, Northeast Utilities, Boston Beer Company, the University of Massachusetts and MassDevelopment. He criticized House leaders – Gingrich, his Republican successors and Democrat Nancy Pelosi – for centralizing most decision-making within House leadership.
“We moved away from the regular order on the floor and more and more legislation was consolidated in the Speaker’s office,” he said.
Neal also attributed President Obama’s failings to his slow grasp of the modern news cycle, which he said shines a more intense light on conflict with fewer “informative pieces.”
Neal, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, spent a portion of his remarks advocating for a remaking of the American tax code.
“The tax system in America is falling under its own weight,” he said, adding that the committee’s current chairman, David Camp, is a “friend of mine.” “I just don’t know how much room David has to make a deal. Our tax code now has very little credibility with the American people. We need to figure out where to go, and it can’t be an argument over more taxes or less taxes.”
Neal described a “dust-up” he had with Vice President Dick Cheney shortly after President George W. Bush took office over the issue of a major tax cut.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, why don’t we keep paying down the debt. Why don’t we continue paying down the debt, and let’s do a modest, middle-class tax cut,’” Neal recalled. “After the look that Cheney and I had with each other, and we had a dust-up over it, you would’ve thought I was involved in the Lindbergh kidnapping.”
Neal also worried that the clout of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation would suffer with the impending departures of U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, and U.S. Rep. John Olver, a member of the Appropriations Committee.
“Junior members of Congress are not going to get that done,” he said.
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