This morning Republicans are just beginning to assess the damage that former House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has done to the GOP budget plan currently before Congress. On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Gingrich denounced House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan's plan to restructure Medicare, saying, "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate."
On his radio program Monday morning, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, who knows Gingrich well but is also close to Ryan, reacted angrily to Gingrich's remarks. Referring to Ryan's Medicare plan as "right-wing social engineering" is, Bennett said, "an unforgivable mistake, in my judgment." Bennett went on to say that Gingrich "has taken himself out of serious consideration for the  race." [Full disclosure: I appear on, and sometimes serve as guest host of, the Bennett program.]
Gingrich's remarks rankled for three reasons. One, they hurt the Republican plan. Two, they were particularly disdainful; Gingrich didn't just said that he disagreed with Ryan, he referred to Ryan's plan as "right-wing social engineering." And three, they contradicted what Gingrich himself has said about Ryan's budget.
To make that last point, Bennett played a clip of an interview he conducted with Gingrich on April 5, barely more than a month ago. At that time, Gingrich was full of praise for the Ryan budget. "Paul Ryan has stepped up to the plate," Gingrich said. "This is a very, very serious budget and I think rivals with [what] John Kasich did as budget chairman in getting to a balanced budget in the 1990s, just for the scale and courage involved…"
"Paul Ryan is going to define modern conservatism at a serious level," Gingrich continued on April 5. "You can quibble over details but the general shape of what he's doing will define 2012 for Republicans."
Well, not for Gingrich, at least not for now. On the air, Bennett said he has talked to Ryan about Gingrich's remarks and that Ryan felt, in Bennett's words, "blindsided" by the attack. Republicans are particularly angry about the timing of Gingrich's "Meet the Press" remarks because they came the day before Ryan was scheduled to make a high-profile defense of his budget plan in a speech in Chicago. Gingrich's attack, those Republicans say, makes it much easier for Democrats to attack Ryan, too.