New York (CNN) – GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich claims his record in Congress as “an aggressive reformer” presaged the tea party movement, though much of it came through the kind of compromise with Democrats that is currently unpopular with conservative primary voters.
“I think I represented the spirit of the tea party before there was a tea party,” the former House Speaker said Saturday, adding that he wouldn’t have been able to pass balanced budget legislation that led to reducing the deficit by $405 billion without the help of President Bill Clinton.
“But the fact is, if he hadn't signed it then it wouldn't have worked, and if I hadn't passed it, it wouldn't have worked, so it did take a bipartisan approach to get the country moving again,” said Gingrich.
Speaking to reporters before a town hall sponsored by the Staten Island Tea Party, Gingrich made no apologies for being what he called a “very strong leader” who often ended up pitted against Republican colleagues.
“I have been a very aggressive reformer. I have stepped on a lot of toes,” he said, adding: “One of the reasons I left Congress is I think, frankly, I burned out a number of Republicans because I pushed so hard for reform.”
Gingrich’s presidential competitors are trying to discredit the surging frontrunner by pointing out qualities that may be antithetical to conservative tea party activists.
Top rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is casting the Gingrich who served in the House of Representatives for two decades as a “lifelong politician."
Texas Rep. Ron Paul calls the former House Speaker a “counterfeit conservative” and released a scathing web ad video last week that labels Gingrich a “serial” hypocrite and Washington insider.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman’s South Carolina Tea Party Co-Chair Javan Browder recently said in a statement that unlike Gingrich and other candidates, Bachmann “hasn’t played the Washington-insider games to pad her own pocket,” alluding to the millions of dollars he earned from clients, including mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
Gingrich defended his record, saying that as a result of his leadership, “some congressmen who have petty interests and petty concerns and petty jurisdictions find themselves unhappy to have a genuine reformer.”
“I would rather be a real reformer and make the American people happy with me and have people in Washington be unhappy,” he said.
At the Fox Republican Presidential Forum hosted by Mike Huckabee Saturday evening, Gingrich warned of railing against longtime politicians who know what they’re doing.
Gingrich said, “You cannot get the scale of change we want, and you can’t get the scale of change the tea parties want, by just appointing good people who have no understanding of the fight they’re about to be in and have no understanding of how difficult and hard Washington is.”
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