Republican Newt Gingrich, in a jab at President Bush, warned yesterday that the GOP will lose the White House and Congress in 2008 if the nominee is perceived as a continuation of the Bush presidency.
Addressing a conservative organization in Washington, the former House Speaker never mentioned the president by name, but his political point was clear.
"If the Republicans run a stand-pat presidential candidate who ends up being on defense for all of September and October and who is seen by the country as representing four more years, the fact is that Republicans are not going to" win, Gingrich told the American Enterprise Institute.
Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman, is considering a White House run, with an announcement likely in the fall.
He has roundly criticized the Bush administration in recent interviews, describing the White House as dysfunctional and saying the president has driven the party into collapse. While he refrained from direct criticism yesterday, he cited failures in Iraq, border security and the response to Hurricane Katrina as signs of a broken government.
His comments come just days after a Republican presidential debate in which GOP candidates criticized Bush over his handling of the Iraq war, his diplomatic style and his approach to immigration.
In the speech, Gingrich handicapped the current GOP field - and the prospect of Fred Thompson joining the race.
He praised Rudy Giuliani's handling of crime as New York City mayor, saying that experience and his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have propelled his candidacy. Gingrich contended that Giuliani's image on national security would offset his more liberal positions on social issues.
"In a world where a nuclear weapon could eliminate an American city in seconds, he has a very strong case," said Gingrich. "He has certainly done better so far than people would guess."
He said Sen. John McCain of Arizona has more to overcome, including explaining his positions on immigration and campaign finance regulation.
"If you were to handicap this race, he has the greatest challenge in a Republican primary," Gingrich said.
Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, is a "very formidable" candidate, while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is a "very serious person who is working very hard," Gingrich said.
Gingrich, who helped shut down the government over spending fights with the Clinton administration in the 1990s, said Republicans must offer a more dramatic platform for remaking government that focuses on private-sector innovation.
In a glimpse of what his candidacy might look like, he said he would shut down public schools that aren't performing and offer a $20 billion reward for the first private company that successfully completes a Mars mission.
"Somebody would be there and back about 40 percent of the way into the NASA process," he said.
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