Newt Gingrich says Hillary Clinton is “very, very unlikely” to be the Democratic presidential pick because of her “layer cake” of scandals. But when it comes to the GOP field, “I haven’t got a clue.”
The former Georgia congressman, on tour with his wife promoting their latest books, entertained 120 people at an Old Town San Diego church hall Tuesday morning — even saying that former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb might be the Republican nominee “under some circumstances.”
Mary Moran, a local publicist, introduced Gingrich as the former speaker of the House she’d like to see become the new speaker of the House. Although he’s on record as saying he wouldn’t refuse the call of Congress, Gingrich didn’t pursue the point.
Instead, he shared his laugh-a-minute thoughts on Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Bernie Sanders, Al Gore and others with a comedian’s timing and the insights of the history professor he once was.
Gingrich ticked off Trump’s business accomplishments, and how he “managed it all simultaneously,” calling him a very smart guy — but “a little whacked.”
- Listen: Complete remarks by Gingrich in Old Town
- Photos: Gingrich Brings Down the House, and Democrats
The billionaire Republican front-runner has turned from reality TV to “reality politics,” Gingrich said at Junipero Serra Hall. “This is sort of like ‘American Idol’ — a perfect candidate for the media and the Kardashians,” he said to guffaws.
He cited a scene in “Christmas in America,” the latest children’s book by his wife, Callista, where President Andrew Jackson lets kids throw cottonballs as snowballs at a White House party.
“I think that Trump is closer to Andrew Jackson than any other president in American history,” Gingrich said. “Jackson so shook up the establishment” he wasn’t the subject of a positive biography until 1945.
Ben Carson, the famed doctor running second to Trump, deserves his due as well, Gingrich said.
“You think he can’t learn politics?” he said. “People say politics isn’t brain surgery. That’s right. A brain surgeon is fine” as a candidate.
But in surveying the field of outsiders in the GOP race, Gingrich said: “Be careful what you ask for.”
Still, he wants someone to “shake up the system.” And despite praising House Speaker John Boehner for his bootstraps beginning and Catholic faith, Gingrich mocked him for getting up every day “and [doing] exactly the right thing for 10 years ago.”
Gingrich dismissed a current dispute between Trump and Jeb Bush over whether President George W. Bush kept America safe.
It’s 2015,” he said. “We need to know from our presidential candidates — what’s your strategy? … How are you going to make us safe?”
On the prospect of Rep. Paul Ryan taking Boehner’s place, the 1995-1999 House speaker said the Wisconsin congressman could be “a really good speaker … but only if he listens carefully” to what Republicans nationwide want.
Gingrich pushed back against the idea that supporters of Trump, Carson and Carly Fiorina are stupid. “Sixty-two percent of the people [showing support in the polls] can’t be stupid,” he said. And the Freedom Caucus of about 40 hard-right Republicans in the House is “a symptom” of the desire for outsiders.
“These are the folks saying: You don’t get it — it’s time for real change,” the 2012 presidential candidate told a mostly older audience.
Gingrich, 72, called Vice President Joe Biden “a safety net” for Democrats seeking a nominee, but didn’t hazard a guess on whether he’d join the race.
News had just broke that Webb had dropped out of the Democratic race, but Gingrich said he doubted the former senator would run as an independent. He noted Webb’s defense of gun rights in the Democratic debate and called him “the only rational person in the room.”
But Gingrich unloaded on Vermont Sen. Sanders, provoking laughter with the observation that the Socialist sat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which failed to avert the delayed-care scandal, “and he thinks the answer to health care is making the entire health system the VA.”
Of former Vice President Gore, Gingrich said the environmentalist who once feared a nuclear-winter scenario with the Soviets had, for psychological reasons, “invented global warming to melt global winter.”
Hillary Clinton’s email and Benghazi baggage was only the top layer of the cake that will keep her from winning her party’s presidential nod, Gingrich said.
He also noted accusations against two of the former secterary of state’s aides — her chief of staff Cheryl Mills and assistant Huma Abedin. And he cited doubts about the Clinton Global Initiative and foundation.
“You can’t put Bill Clinton near $2 billion,” Gingrich said in a setup to another joke. “He means well, but he’s really sloppy. Gets confused with what he’s doing and who he’s doing it with.”
That wasn’t a sexual reference, Gingrich said amid audience laughter.
Local radio personality Mark Larson emceed the event, which included a half-dozen questions from the audience. “Stop calling them lawmakers — it only encourages them,” Larson said at one point.
East County Assemblyman Brian Jones, who also spoke, put a sharper point on that idea, saying, “Your liberty and pocketbooks are safe” until the current legislative recess ends in January. “We can’t do any damage when we’re in the district.”
Jones urged the audience to support his opposition to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s gun-control ballot initiative. He said to sign up at “Californians Against Gavin’s Gun Grab.”
The Gingriches signed autographs for an hour — the morning after a similar appearance at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla and minutes after an interview on KUSI. (He’d soon leave for Simi Valley and a 6 p.m. lecture-and-signing at the Reagan Library.)
In Old Town, he began by saying that he and Callista “have a passion for helping save America” and that his book “Duplicity” about terrorism and presidential politics was an effort to share his concerns with a new generation. (He hopes it becomes a TV series as well.)
He also said he’s working on a George Washington movie project with hopes of bypassing “the damage done in the school system” and appealing to young people via new media.
“Ronald Reagan defeated communism and the Soviet empire,” he said, “but he did not defeat the Left and American culture.”