Newt Gingrich offered a strong defense of the attacks Mitt Romney and other rivals have been leveling on him in recent days, but steered mostly clear of returning the fire.
On the contrary, Gingrich told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he finds Romney a “very formidable opponent” whom he’d even consider having as his vice-presidential nominee.
“I think there are circumstances where he’d certainly be on the list, I don’t know if he’d want to or not, but he’s a very competent person,” Gingrich said. “He’s not – this is a serious man, and I would certainly support him if he became the Republican nominee.”
Gingrich didn’t take the bait on several chances to attack Romney – except on health care plan he implemented while governor of Massachusetts.
“I think he was wrong,” he said. “The difference between Mitt and I is I think I was wrong and I changed, I think down deep he thinks he’s wrong, but he’s being stubborn.”
Gingrich defended his past personal problems when pressed about a new Romney ad stressing his marriage and strong family values – a less-than-veiled attempt to draw a contrast with Gingrich’s three marriages.
“I suspect everybody who runs for office at this level has had some flaws at some point – I don’t think, other than Christ I don’t think anybody has been flawless,” he told Blitzer. “But you’ve got to decide – in my case I’m 68 years old, I have a very strong marriage to Callista as you know, I’m very close to my two daughters … and people have to look at that and decide, is he now a person who’s matured and who I am comfortable having lead the country.”
And in regards to the $100 million the Gingrich Group raked in, Gingrich said that money was a result of hard work over more than a decade.
“Well, [it was] over 12 years, I mean, we’ve had four companies, and we’ve produced seven movies. I have a total of 24 books, 13 of them New York Times bestsellers. I gave 50 to 80 speeches a year. We were very busy.”
He also stressed that his involvement with Freddie Mac was perfectly ethical because he was “a private citizen” when it occurred, and that he didn’t “personally” get the $1.6 to $1.8 million reported as his fee for that consulting help.
And asked about the Obama campaign’s focus on Romney as the most formidable general-election candidate, Gingrich said they’d feel differently once he and Obama had a chance to debate.
“I am perfectly happy for the Obama people to decide they want to beat up on Romney – that’s a little tough on Romney but that’s fine by me,” he said. “When we get to the general election and I’m the nominee, after the president has those seven three-hour debates we’ll see how they feel about it.”
In regards to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, Gingrich said that as president he’d do whatever he could to make sure that never happened.
“I’d provide them intelligence, I’d provide them logistical support … an Iranian nuclear weapon is essentially a second Holocaust,” he said.
Gingrich has been leading the polls in recent weeks, overtaking the spot that’s been held by Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, who’ve all flamed out.
Blitzer asked Gingrich if his campaign might implode too.
“Sure. It’d be a bad thing to do. I mean, is it possible? I guess,” he said. “On the other hand, I’ve had a very long career and I have a very public record and I think people are coming to decide that they like substance, and they like somebody who has actually balanced the budget, reformed welfare, cut taxes – gotten it done for real. So I think there’s probably a little more resilience in my support than some of the other folks who’ve made a run at this.”