Rumors that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was endorsing Sen. John McCain are untrue. In an interview late this morning, Gingrich told me, “I am neutral on the presidential nomination. I will support the Republican nominee.”
Gingrich added, “My position is that Republicans ought to look at the three candidates that are still aggressively in the race and recognize that any of the three would be better than Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama. I think that got translated into my endorsing one of [the Republicans] since some leaders of the conservative movement have been…vigorous about one of the candidates not being acceptable.”
Sen. McCain is not Gingrich’s favorite, though McCain would be able to leap over the low bar of being better for America than Clinton or Obama. Gingrich said, “I clearly have disagreements, particularly with Sen. McCain on key issues such as amnesty for illegal immigrants or tax cuts or what I thought was a censorship law that was unconstitutional, McCain-Feingold. But if I had to look at the record of Sen. McCain over his career, compared to the record of Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton, he is vastly better for America’s future than either of those two candidates.”
Two of the three leading candidates — McCain and Romney — are scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference later this week in Washington. I asked Gingrich what they should say to the CPAC audience.
He said, “I think they should outline where they would go…[and say] that the conservative movement should get over this White House fixation. The conservative movement needs to be what it is and stand for what it believes in. And when a Republican senator, or congressman or president is on the right side we should support him and when he’s wrong we should say so publicly.”
Gingrich said, “We need to focus on defining the principles of conservatism and measuring honestly whether somebody in fact is taking a position that is conservative or not. And I don’t think we did George W. Bush any favors by not aggressively pointing out those occasions where he was failing to be effective from the standpoint of conservatism.”
He added, “Just because someone becomes your nominee doesn’t mean they become perfect.”
So how does this primary season play out for conservatives?
Gingrich said, “We ought to have a principled American view that when you’re right I’m going to support you and when you’re wrong I’m going to oppose you and that doesn’t mean I can’t support your election as compared to — in the real world — somebody far to your left and somebody who’d be much more destructive for our values.”