AP110513035417One week into his presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich is already embroiled in another controversy.
The former House Speaker is facing criticism from politicians and voters alike for comments he made Sunday on "Meet the Press." On the show, Gingrich described House Budget chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) proposed changes to Medicare as "radical change."
"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate," Gingrich told host David Gregory. Ryan's budget proposes changing Medicare to a subsidized private insurance system, among other reforms. Gingrich said the plan is "too big a jump."
But that criticism didn't sit well with some, who viewed Gingrich's televised take as Republican disloyalty.
"What he said was absolutely unfortunate," South Carolina GOP Gov. Nikki Haley told CNN Tuesday. "Here you've got Representative Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees."
Haley, as the Republican governor of an early primary state, is a key figure in the 2012 race.
Gingrich made his first official campaign stop to another early state--Iowa--on Monday. But one voter there made a scene by pulling Gingrich aside in the lobby of the Dubuque Holiday Inn to chide him for his Medicare remarks.
"What you just did to Paul Ryan was unforgivable," the man, identified by the Des Moines Register as Dubuque resident Russell Fuhrman, calmly told the candidate and the men shook hands.
"I didn't do anything to Paul Ryan," Gingrich replied.
"Yes, you did. You undercut him ... you're an embarrassment to our party."
Gingrich said, "I'm sorry you feel that way." But that didn't appear to placate Fuhrman.
"Why don't you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?" he asked Gingrich.
The exchange was caught on tape by Fox News cameras. Watch it below:
Gingrich's comments similarly angered many congressional Republicans.
"With allies like that, who needs the left?" Ryan posited on Laura Ingraham's radio show Monday.
"I just think he's missing the mark on what our plan actually does," Ryan told reporters Monday following a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago. "Our plan is one of the most gradual things one could do," since it doesn't affect people who are currently over age 55 and does not take effect for 10 years, Ryan reportedly explained.
Budget Committee Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), as well as other current and former members of Congress, expressed their disappointment with Gingrich in interviews with Politico Monday.
"I was not thrilled with those remarks, and was rather disappointed with those remarks," Campbell said. "Obviously completely disagree with those remarks."
Lankford criticized, "Typically, you'll find people in a presidential campaign running against the current president of another party, rather than running against his own party."
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said Monday that Gingrich's comment "cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees" and "supports the Obama administration."
Gingrich defended himself on the "Mike Gallagher Show" Monday (you can listen to the audio here), saying that he "never slammed Paul Ryan" and noting that he opened his "Meet the Press" appearance by praising Ryan and endorsing his Medicaid block grant program.
He conceded that his wording "may have been too dramatic" but blamed the media for the growing controversy over his remarks:
Were in a phase here where, if you are a conservative, you better expect gotcha press and they took dramatically out of context what I said and tried to make it dramatically into a fight between Paul Ryan ... We would approach Medicare differently, I don't think that's a fight.
Watch the comments that started it all, below in a clip of Gingrich's "Meet the Press" appearance:
(Photo of Gingrich: John Amis/AP)