TODAY   |  January 19, 2012

Gingrich: I’m not going to criticize ex-wife

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich talks to TODAY’s Ann Curry about his presidential candidacy, defends his comments about the poor and says he’s not going to criticize his ex-wife, who has promised to give an explosive interview to ABC News.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in head, south carolina , joining us this morning exclusively. mr. speaker, good morning.

>> ann, good to talk to you.

>> let's begin with this breaking news that with most precincts counted, it was actually rick santorum and not mitt romney who won in iowa . given this news, why shouldn't rick santorum and not you, be the alternative to mitt romney ?

>> well the fact is if you look at your own poll, i'm clearly within five points now of beating romney . there's a poll that will come out later this morning that says as of last night i'm two points ahead of romney . the only effective conservative vote is to vote for newt gingrich . rick santorum is a fine person, but i think he's running in fourth place in south carolina . so south carolina conservatives, if they want to stop a massachusetts moderate only have one effective vote, for newt gingrich . that's a mathematical reality, given the polling.

>> you talk about the numbers and this surge. is it purely because of the negative ads that are running? or is it, as is this what voters deserve?

>> well, first of all, the voters deserve a totally positive campaign. and as you'll remember when we had a totally positive campaign, i was leading romney by 15 points nationally in the gallup poll . then we got hit by a wave, a tsunami of negative attack ads, i stayed positive all the way through iowa . and what we discovered was, if you didn't match romney 's willingness to be very, very clear, you were just going to be unilaterally disarmed. so we haven't gone negative, we have been very clear and very factual. the new ad we just released has senator mccain attacking romney for being so negative and for flip-flopping. it has governor huckabee attacking romney for being so negative. those are real clips of what they said. they're clearly totally accurate. we're not distorting anything. unlike some of the romney ads.

>> let's talk about some of the things you are saying. because the numbers are tightening. while in recent days you've been increasingly stepping up your characterization of president obama as a food stamp president. interestingly, in the lead-up now to south carolina , quoting a "new york times" editorial, in south carolina , where confederate flags still wave on the front lawn of the state capital , largely because of the efforts of the state gop, it remains good primary politics to stir up racial animosity and then link it to president obama . are you intentionally playing the race card to win votes?

>> you know, modern liberals are just, i think frankly totally off the deep end . i went to the martin luther king jr . breakfast monday morning with a republican congressman who is an african-american. tim scott . we talked about the corridor of shame, which president obama campaigned in in south carolina and has done nothing for. i outlined a plan to build an i-73 corridor that would turn that corridor of shame into a corridor of hope.

>> i'm asking you, newt gingrich about the nature of the way you're characterizing president obama as a food stamp president. go ahead.

>> i'm trying to make a point to you, which is when conservatives care about the poor, and conservatives offer ideas to help the poor, and conservatives suggest that the poor would rather have a paycheck than a food stamp , the very liberals who have failed them, at places like "the new york times," promptly scream racism, because they have no defense for the failure of liberal institutions which have trapped poor children in bad schools, trapped them in bad neighborhoods, trapped them in crime-ridden situations. liberal system has failed.

>> point taken. but you are using these words, leading up to south carolina . why are you not, why didn't you step up these words, this campaign before new hampshire? before iowa ? why now?

>> i use these words, i used these words at the georgia republican convention last year in may. and i was asked about it. on "meet the press" in may of last year. i have consistently all year long, began doing it in the 2010 campaign. i have said, barack obama is the best food stamp president, the most effective food stamp president in history. his policies have put -- and he just did it again yesterday, with the keystone pipeline . his policies have put more americans on food stamps than any president in history. why is it the liberals get so touchy about a fact? it is a fact that he has put more people on food stamps . i've been saying this for like eight months.

>> but there's now -- i've been saying it consistently.

>> back in 1995 , your ex-wife mary anne , told " vanity fair " she could derail your campaign with one tv interview. tonight she is giving that interview. is there anything she could say, newt gingrich , that could end your campaign?

>> i'm not going to say anything negative about mary anne . my two daughters, kathy and jackie have sent a letter to the president of abc news, saying from a family perspective, they think this is totally wrong. they think abc should not air anything like this. and that intruding into family things that are a decade, more than a decade old, are simply wrong. now, i let my daughters speak for it i'm sure they'd be glad to come on and chat about it i'm not going to comment about it i'm focused on the big issues that concern the american people , which are the current challenges we have, largely because of the failure of the obama presidency.

>> it is your ex-wife someone that you think people should see as credible on your character?

>> i think that my two daughters are very credible on my character. i think the people who have known me a long time are credible on my character. i think we have lots of folks willing to speak about this. i'm not going to. people will have to judge me, i'm a 68-year-old grandfather. see how close i am to my wife, calista. and how close i am to my daughters and son-in-laws, my two grandchildren, they'll have to make their mind up. but 16 and 20-year-old stories, we have real stories this week on the failure of the obama administration. i realize that some of the elite media would like to do almost anything other than cover his failures. but the fact is you look at the keystone pipeline yesterday, you look at the saudi decision to go with china to build nuclear capability on sunday you look at the failure of this administration to stand up to the iranians and actually cancel an exercise with the israelis. we have a lot we can talk about today about real problems.

>> i know you've got a busy few days ahead leading up to south carolina . former house speaker , newt gingrich , thank you so much for joining us this morning.