Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CNN) – White House hopeful Newt Gingrich had stinging criticism Monday for presidential candidate Ron Paul, who is holding onto second place on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
The former House speaker has been the target of negative advertisements from Paul and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But in an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Gingrich all but dismissed the Texas congressman's attacks, saying he doesn't think Paul is electable.
– Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker
"Ron Paul represents a very ideological movement that, you know, thinks an Iranian nuclear weapon doesn't matter and legalizing drugs is fine. I mean I think he plays by a totally different set of rules than anybody else," Gingrich said.
Gingrich didn't back down from his comments after the Cedar Rapids Gazette followed-up with this question: "Did you just dismiss Ron Paul as a serious candidate?"
"I don't think the Republican Party is going to nominate – or the country's going to elect – a president who believes that an Iranian nuclear weapon's irrelevant, or a president who believes that Israel's survival doesn't matter, or a president who's for legalizing drugs. Forgetting all the stuff that was written in the newsletters that he claims he didn't know about," Gingrich said.
"I do think he's a serious protest candidate and I think as long as he's a protest candidate on things like the Federal Reserve, he actually serves a useful purpose in building an issue that really matters," Gingrich said. "But I think if you really stop and say to yourself, can you imagine him as president given his beliefs and his system, I think the answer is no. You couldn't imagine the American people doing that."
In the editorial board interview, Gingrich said he holds Paul and Romney to different standards.
"Mitt Romney is a serious person and as a serious person he has some responsibility to set a decent standard, and he couldn't show the ads he's running to his grandchildren with any sense of pride," said Gingrich, referring to the negative ads targeting Gingrich and produced by Restore Our Future super PAC, which operates independently from the Romney campaign but is run by former staff members.
In a CNN interview that will air Monday on "Piers Morgan Tonight," Gingrich pressed Romney to repudiate the super PAC ads.
"My only request of Mitt is that he be honest with the country. This attack ad, which is already running in Florida, already running in South Carolina, already running in New Hampshire," Gingrich said to Morgan. "If he can't level with the American people about these ads, why should we expect him to level about anything if he's president?"
– Follow Shawna Shepherd on Twitter: @ShepherdCNN.