Newt Gingrich had plenty of people on the Right scratching their heads after his attack on Paul Ryan’s budget plan as conservative “social engineering,” but Republicans weren’t the only ones mystified.  The attack also puzzled Jay Newton-Small at Time.  Two weeks ago, Gingrich told her that he would have voted for the plan offered by the “brave” Republican Representative:

The former speaker sang Ryan’s praises for being a “brave” “man of ideas,” like Gingrich himself.

“But would you have voted for Ryan’s plan?” I pressed.

“Sure,” Gingrich replied.

“Do you think it would actually save the health care system?”

“No, I think it’s the first step,” Gingrich said. “You need an entirely new set of solutions.”

Compare this to how Gingrich described the Ryan plan yesterday:

MR. GREGORY:  But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.

REP. GINGRICH:  I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump.  I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.

So one day it’s a good first step, and 14 days later, it’s several steps too far?  There are only a couple of plausible explanations for this change, and none of them complimentary to Gingrich.  The first is that he told Newton-Small that he’d have voted for the Ryan plan as a “first step” without bothering to read it first in order to ingratiate himself with the conservative base.  The second is that he read it, but it took him two weeks to understand it.  And the third is that Gingrich decided that most of his 2012 competition would back the Ryan plan and that he could get political space for himself by being a contrarian.  The fourth option is that Newton-Small is simply making up the story, which seems unlikely although not impossible.

Gingrich isn’t stupid by any stretch of the imagination, so I tend to doubt that it’s option 2.  If Newton-Small didn’t make up the exchange out of whole cloth, it’s either option 1 or 3, and both of them paint a picture of a politician operating from something other than principle.