The Ryan plan has been a recurring problem for Gingrich on the campaign trail, as Republicans have criticized the former House Speaker for calling the plan, which would turn Medicare into a voucher-based system for those under the age of 55, “right-wing social engineering.”
"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," Gingrich said on "Meet the Press" in May. "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate."
Speaking Friday on Ben Domenech’s "Coffee and Markets" podcast series, Gingrich referenced the “right-wing social engineering” comments in response to a question about Medicare.
“What I was saying was in answer to a very specific question, which was: if there’s a program which is very, very unpopular, should Republicans impose it, and my answer was no,” Gingrich said.
“When we passed welfare reform, 92 percent of the country favored it, including 88 percent on welfare. Reagan ran to be a popular president, not to maximize suicide,” he continued. “And I think conservatives have got to understand, you govern over the long run by having the American people think you’re doing a good job, and think you’re doing what they want. Now the question is, how do you have creative leadership that achieves the right values in a popular way?”
Following Gingrich’s comments in May, Ryan countered that “with friends like that, who needs the left,” which rival Ron Paul's campaign has used in attack ads against Gingrich.
More recently, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (R), a conservative kingmaker in the early-voting state, cited the comments as evidence that Gingrich’s “irrational behavior” makes him unfit to be the Republican nominee.
“Gingrich’s undercutting of Paul Ryan proves that he’s more concerned about Newt Gingrich than he is about conservative principles,” Sununu said. “What he did to Paul Ryan is a perfect example of irrational behavior that you do not want in the commander in chief.”
The Ryan plan would turn Medicare into a premium-support system that directs money to private insurance companies to cover seniors, which Gingrich said he could support, but only if it was a “voluntary program” similar to Medicare Advantage.