Gingrich: I oppose Paul Ryan's Medicare reform but support a "variation" of the individual mandate; Update: Ryan's office responds

Says Andrew Stiles of NRO, “Newt Gingrich’s appearance on ‘Meet the Press’ today could leave some wondering which party’s nomination he is running for.” DrewM at Ace’s site thinks it’s yet another illustration of Newt’s loose-cannon lack of message discipline, but I can’t believe that; he surely must have considered how this will play in the primaries, especially after the pounding Romney just took on the right for his health-care speech. What’s his strategy? Maybe he’s decided his shot at the nomination is so long that his only chance is by Mediscaring seniors, who famously turn out in high numbers at the polls, into backing him. Paul Ryan’s budget has played remarkably well with the 65+ crowd thus far, but an AP poll taken late last year, before he introduced his plan, found even Republican seniors opposed privatizing Medicare to the tune of 71 percent. If professional Smart Guy Newt Gingrich is now warning them that Ryan’s gone too far, their jitters about reform may make them inclined to believe him. It’s desperate, but since he’s not going to win with support from the GOP’s right, why not pander to its left? I just hope he’s prepared for the relentless beating he’ll rightly take in conservative media for kneecapping Ryan at a moment when deficit hawks are frantic to move national opinion on entitlement reform via a unified party message. He’s handed the left a campaign commercial here and they’re already using it.

As for his point about mandates, Gregory’s question was presumably inspired by this recent HuffPo piece. Here was Newt’s chance to climb down from his previous Romney-ish rhetoric about our individual duty to buy coverage. But … nope. He’s still all for it — not for a mandate specifically, mind you, but for variations on it, like having to post a bond. What his strategy in the primaries is in taking that position, I have no idea. If anything, it gives Romney a bit of cover by now being able to claim (a) that the mandate isn’t as fringe as conservatives would like to believe and (b) that Mitt’s the more responsible of the two since at least he doesn’t want anything like this at the federal level. Any theories on what Gingrich was thinking here? I’m mystified.

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Update: Via NRO, a pointed rejoinder from Ryan’s spokesman:

“The solutions offered by Chairman Ryan and advanced by House Republicans make no changes to Medicare for those in and near retirement, while offering a strengthened, personalized program that future generations can count on when they retire,” Sweeney says. “Far from claims of radicalism, the gradual, common-sense Medicare reforms ensure that no senior will be forced to reorganize their lives because of government’s mistakes. The most ‘radical’ course of action on Medicare is continue to cling to the unsustainable status quo.”

“Serious leaders,” he adds, without naming names, “owe seniors specific solutions to avert Medicare’s looming collapse.”