Kevin wonders if Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid is coming apart at the seams. It appears his campaign is mulling the same question. Gingrich aides have scheduled a conference call with conservative commentators, reporters, and bloggers for this afternoon to try to contain the self-inflicted damage caused by Newt’s now-infamous Meet the Press slam of Paul Ryan’s budget. Prior to ripping it as "radical," Newt had signaled his support for Ryan’s “bold” plan -- and is now clarifying that he would fully support it...if its Medicare reforms “were not compulsory,” but also worries that it’s “politically catastrophic.” Got all that?
How is Newt’s incoherent and muddled messaging playing with the party faithful? Judging by this cringe-worthy video clip of an interaction he endured with an irate Iowa voter, not well:
IOWAN: What you just did to Paul Ryan is unforgivable.
GINGRICH: I didn't do anything to Paul Ryan.
IOWAN: Yes, you did. You undercut him.... you're an embarrassment to our party.
GINGRICH: I'm sorry you feel that way.
IOWAN: Why don't you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?
Ouch. It's also worth mentioning that indignation over Newt's sloppy rhetorical gift to Democrats isn't limited to Republican primary voters; prominent Republican office holders are also piling on. Take it away, Nikki Haley:
[South Carolina Governor Nikki] Haley, whose promise to endorse a presidential candidate has made her a key power broker in the Republican primary fight, joined in the chorus Tuesday and said she is "terribly disappointed" in Gingrich.
"What he said was absolutely unfortunate," Haley told CNN in a phone interview. "Here you've got Representative Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees."
"When you have a conservative fighting for real change, the last thing we need is a presidential candidate cutting him off at the knees," she added.
This mess is brushing perilously close to a full-fledged crisis for Team Newt. Carol thinks he's already sunk. I’m eager to hear what he has to say on the conference call later today. Stay tuned for updates.
UPDATE - Nationally-syndicated talk show host Bill Bennett grilled Newt on his comments this morning. The exchange was testy, at times. Listen Here. "Paul Ryan's in the fight of his life, and you're shooting at him from behind."
UPDATE II - The overall tone ofNewt's conference call with right-leaning reporters was respectful, but a bit tense.Ed Morrissey's write-up offers a helpful summary of the questions that were asked, as well as thumbnail sketches of the candidate's responses. I'll offer a few more thoughts later on, as well.