TAMPA, Fla. — Newt Gingrich says there’s a better way for the Republicans running for president to debate each other than the type of televised showdowns going on now.
“I would still love to see some agreement where we would have 90-minute dialogues one-on-one,” the former House Speaker and GOP candidate for president said in an interview spanning more than 20 minutes with The Daily Caller on Tuesday.
He suggested these kind of debates, where only two people debate under a format of few rules, might work best after the field has dwindled down to perhaps “the final four.”
Gingrich, who has criticized debate moderators on more than one occasion recently, said he’s for figuring out “some model by which some people could actually have rational conversations.”
He has long been a fan of debates in the style of those famously held in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, where the candidates were given 90 minutes each to offer their side. He called on the major party nominees for president in 2008 to hold such forums.
“What’s the purpose of free elections?” Gingrich said. “Is the purpose of free elections to allow the most clever and vicious person to aggregate power or is the purpose of free elections to enable the American people to have a serious conversation about their country’s future and try to find both a policy and a personality that they think will carry to them that better future? They’re totally different models.”
Newt, the ideas man
During the sit down interview at the Lowry Park Zoo — where the former speaker screened his documentary “A City Upon a Hill” for young Republicans — Gingrich discussed, among other topics, abortion, campaign finance, foreign aid and the media.
With all the talk about cutting the budget, should the Pentagon see cuts too? Gingrich called for “reforming defense,” but said “we are substantially under-investing in defense right now,” considering the challenges the country is facing.
“Nobody in this country has taken seriously what a real nuclear event would be like,” Gingrich said. “You’ve got the North Koreans building weapons, you got the Iranians building weapons, you’ve got the Pakistanis already have at least 100 nuclear weapons. Do you think there’s any serious effort in this country to come to grips with that?”
Asked about abolishing or changing federal departments and agencies, Gingrich said he’d like to see the Department of Education “dramatically reduced to essentially being a research office.”
And on the topic of whether the United States should provide money to foreign countries after a natural disaster, he said: “Look, I think we have a charitable instinct. We should both raise the money privately and provide immediate response, which I think means you need to have a big enough military.”
But he added: “I would replace most foreign aid with a tax credit for businesses to invest. I think U.S. bureaucrats giving foreign bureaucrats money is a guaranteed failure. And we’ve had about 50 years experience at failing with foreign aid.”
He also trumpeted an idea to save money you don’t hear very often on the stump.
“I think that we should have a major project on brain science,” Gingrich said, referencing Alzheimer’s, autism and Parkinson’s.
“Alzheimer’s alone is about a 20 trillion dollar combined public and private cost from now to 2050,” he said. “The people I talk to in brain science believe that if you postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years, you cut the cost in half. Now that’s a ten trillion dollar savings.”
Asked to explain the philosophy behind being against abortion, but being pro-death penalty, Gingrich said: “My personal philosophy is babies are innocent, and mass murderers aren’t. It’s pretty straightforward.”
Gingrich also said he’s for doing away with most campaign finance laws.
“I believe the only appropriate campaign finance laws says you can give any amount you want of after-tax personal income as long as it’s reported every night on the Internet,” he said.
In terms of campaign finance laws, he said “everything we have done since the 1970s has led to a more and more convoluted, out of control and frankly more dishonest system.”
On the topic of the media, Gingrich, who says someone sends him between 100 and 300 emails a day of pertinent news items, said the “elite media… is liberal in general, Democrat in general and likes Obama in general.”
Gingrich, whose campaign saw staff exit and donors stop giving earlier this summer, said his goal between now and December is to put in place the resources to “build the networks to be competitive” in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida.
“I think if the economy remains a huge problem,” he said, “ if things overseas get worse, whether it’s the Euro or its the Middle East or whatever, if the American people, as they get closer to real decisions, look up and say, we need somebody who has solutions as big as their problems, we need somebody who actually knows how to do it… I think I have a fair chance of being the nominee.”
Asked if he actually enjoys campaigning, Gingrich said: “I enjoy being with people. I don’t particularly love raising money. And I don’t always like the 18th or 20th hour of the same day. But as a general principle, I like meeting people, I like learning.”
Gingrich also suggested his strategy entails doing his best to always talk about his ideas, and not attack his primary opponents. “They’re all my friends,” he said.
“The contract with America didn’t attack anybody,” Gingrich said. “It was a totally positive document. The ad we ran in TV Guide had no pictures, did not mention Bill Clinton, didn’t attack the Democrats. It said here’s a better future.”