U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is a “big thinker” who isn’t necessarily “as conservative as some people think.”
At a breakfast in Washington, Boehner wouldn’t say whether he believes Gingrich would make a good president. He said “Republicans have a lot of good candidates out there,” and that he would support whoever becomes the party’s nominee to challenge President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
Boehner offered a qualified defense of Gingrich’s conservative credentials as other Republican presidential candidates have stepped up their attacks on him on that front.
Mitt Romney called Gingrich “an extremely unreliable leader in the conservative world” in a Washington Post interview. Representative Ron Paul of Texas has been charging Gingrich with “serial hypocrisy” on key conservative issues.
“It would be hard to describe Newt as not conservative,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said at the breakfast sponsored by Politico.com, a political news web site. “I am not sure he’s as conservative as some people think he is, but Newt is a conservative.”
Boehner, 62, who was part of the House Republican leadership team when Gingrich, 68, was House speaker during the 1990s, described his former boss as extremely intelligent and innovative.
‘Outside the Box’
“I’ve never seen a guy who could think outside the box as well as he can,” Boehner said. ‘He is a big thinker but, you know, like all big thinkers they’ve got some great ideas, they may have some other ideas.”
In spite of their “very different styles,” Boehner said he and Gingrich “worked very closely together.” He said the two are “still good friends,” though Boehner said he was unfairly blamed by some other House Republicans for an unsuccessful bid in 1997 to remove Gingrich from his speakership.
“It was a very difficult time,” said Boehner. He denied being part of the effort or even advising its participants.
Regarding his own performance as speaker, Boehner dismissed questions about trouble his leadership team has had winning support for a series of spending and budget deals from the 87 Republican freshmen elected in the 2010 midterm elections, many with backing of the Tea Party movement.
“They have not been an issue at all,” he said.
One of the obstacles delaying action last summer on raising the U.S. debt limit was opposition Boehner encountered within his caucus to his version of the legislation.
Any impatience about the pace of advancing the Republican agenda to cut spending and government regulation has been expressed by “a few senior members who don’t believe anything differently than I do except they want it all done now. Right now! All of it!” Boehner said, his voice rising to a shout.
“I’d like to have it all done right now, too,” he said, while adding that isn’t possible with Democratic control of the White House and the Senate.
“I am not a big believer in setting back and throwing ‘Hail Mary’ passes,” he said. That may “make people feel good for a few seconds, but you never move the ball down the field.”