CBS: Does Gingrich Need to 'Play A Little More Dirty' in GOP Contest?

On Monday's Early Show, CBS's Rebecca Jarvis wondered if Newt Gingrich would "have to play a little more dirty...to take on the other GOP contenders to win the bid." Bob Schieffer replied cynically that Gingrich would "save his criticism for attacking the media, which is always the safe thing to do." Chris Wragge prompted the former Speaker to criticize Herman Cain and Rick Perry on Friday, but he didn't bite.

Jarvis brought on the Face The Nation host for his take on Republican presidential debate hosted by CBS and National Journal on Saturday. Near the end of the interview, the fill-in anchor raised how Gingrich was "gaining momentum" and that he "held true to this no real confrontation with the other candidates" during the debate. She then directed her "dirty" question to Schieffer.

The CBS veteran first answered that "as long as he [Gingrich] has the other people in the race taking shots at Mitt Romney, he can sort of be the professor who sort of rises above it all, and takes the statesman-like position. Maybe down the line, he will have to do that, but right now, his strategy is to stand back, let the others express the criticism of the other Republicans." Once he made his remark about Gingrich's bellicosity towards the media being the "safe thing to do," Jarvis replied, "Well, it certainly is, in many cases."

The former Speaker of the House took this stance toward his fellow Republicans during a Friday interview with Wragge on The Early Show, after the morning show anchor asked about the Cain sexual harassment controversy and Governor Perry's stumble in the previous debate:

WRAGGE: I want to get back to our new CBS poll out this morning for just a moment. Herman Cain, like we mentioned- his numbers- he's still at the top of the list right now, but his numbers are eroding down, from 25% on October 25, now down to 18%. These sexual harassment claims- do you think that he has done a sufficient enough job of explaining to the American people exactly what has gone on here?

GINGRICH: Well, I think he's been answering each charge as it comes up, and it depends on whether or not there are more charges. He's admitted himself if there are more charges, that he's going to have to answer them, and that he can't get out of it. It's a fact of life. Up to now, he seems to have satisfied most people, that the allegations aren't proven, and that having people who hold press conferences isn't the same as conviction. So I think people are giving him the benefit of the doubt. And, you know, I have known Herman a long time. He's a very attractive, very articulate person. He's been very bold in his campaign ideas, and I think people admire that kind of boldness. You know, the big thing I take from your poll is that this is a wide-open race....any of the candidates could make a surge and suddenly, be in dramatically better shape.

WRAGGE: Yeah. Still 17% undecided in that poll as well. Rick Perry- his debate performance on Wednesday- I know he's now trying to make light of it, going on 'The Late Show with David Letterman' last night. But Michele Bachmann even said, speaking on behalf of all of you on the stage, 'We all felt bad for him.' You poked a little fun at him yesterday at a campaign stop in Detroit. How uncomfortable a moment was it, being up on stage when that was going down?

GINGRICH: Look, it was very uncomfortable, because I like Rick Perry a lot. I wrote the foreword to his last book. Callista and I regard he and Anita as good friends. And the thing that makes it doubly uncomfortable is any of us could have it happen. Let's be clear. I'm a pretty good debater. I've had moments in my life when I couldn't remember a name, or I couldn't remember a fact or something, and I can imagine doing that in front of the whole country. And so, I think- I don't think any of us took any happiness or any glee out of that. We all felt very uncomfortable for Rick, and we also felt there, but for the grace of God, goes me....So I think we're a little cautious to jump to judgment on that one incident.

Bob Schieffer, CBS News Host | NewsBusters.orgSpeaking of Perry, Schieffer spouted a liberal talking point about the Texas governor earlier in the segment: "I think the problem for Rick Perry is different than the problems facing some of the others. I mean, he has to convince people- for want of a better way to say it, he has to convince people that he's not dumb and, you know, in something like that, first impressions are always hard to overcome. Maybe he will be able to do that."

The full transcript of the Rebecca Jarvis/Bob Schieffer segment on Monday's Early Show, which began 33 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour:

REBECCA JARVIS: And joining us now is chief Washington correspondent and host of 'Face The Nation,' Bob Schieffer. Great to have you with us, as always, Bob. Good morning.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Hey, Rebecca.

JARVIS: So everybody played nice on Saturday night. Did that surprise you at all?

SCHIEFFER: No, it really didn't, as a matter of fact. I think they were all kind of trying to step back a little bit, and the idea of talking about foreign policy and the great, you know, issues and threats facing the country. I think they all saw it as a time to sort of look statesman-like. There were some, you know, little jabs here and there, but actually, this went about the way I thought it would.

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For 2012: Tough Talk On Foreign Policy At GOP Debate"]

JARVIS: Jan [Crawford] made the point that, sort of, Gingrich and Romney pulled ahead as the front-runners in this. They both made the point that they would consider military action against- to prevent a nuclear Iran, rather. Did that surprise you at all, that they would be so hawkish in their tone?

SCHIEFFER: Well, again, not really, (Jarvis laughs) but I think here, this is something that has to do with the details. When you're talking about attacking Iran, if they have a nuclear weapon, does that mean putting troops on the ground there? I really doubt that there's going to be much appetite for doing that. And then, beyond that, when would you take this military action- the minute that you realize that they did actually have a bomb, or would it be after they threatened you? There are a whole lot of questions to ask in the coming debates about exactly what they meant by that.

JARVIS: Yeah. The devil's in the details and, in particular it, since this was our first debate on foreign policy, we'll likely hear more emerge. Perry came out of it gaffe-free. His campaign raised $17 million last quarter. Do you think he can spend his way into a comeback here?


[CBS News Graphic: "Race For 2012: Can Perry Make A Comeback?"]

SCHIEFFER: Well, I think the problem for Rick Perry is different than the problems facing some of the others. I mean, he has to convince people- for want of a better way to say it, he has to convince people that he's not dumb and, you know, in something like that, first impressions are always hard to overcome. Maybe he will be able to do that.

I think, though, Rebecca, as he tries to change the image there, he also may have stepped into a little something when he talked about zero-based budgeting for foreign aid to Israel. There are a lot of people in this country who are going to ask what he meant by that. Now, his campaign, immediately after the debate, began to walk that back and said- well, of course, Israel is a special case. But I think he's going to have some explaining to do on that front.

JARVIS: You know, you talk about Perry, who sort of had to change his tone, try to regain some respect. Gingrich, on the opposite side of things, has been gaining momentum, but he's also held true to this no real confrontation with the other candidates. Do you think that at some point, in all of this, he's going to have to play a little more dirty, and rather than just taking on President Obama, he's going to have to take on the other GOP contenders to win the bid?

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For 2012: Gingrich Gains Traction"]

SCHIEFFER: I think as long as he has the other people in the race taking shots at Mitt Romney, he can sort of be the professor who sort of rises above it all, and takes the statesman-like position. Maybe down the line, he will have to do that, but right now, his strategy is to stand back, let the others express the criticism of the other Republicans, and he saves his criticism for attacking the media, which is always the safe thing to do.

JARVIS: Yes. Well, it certainly is, in many cases. CBS's Bob Schieffer in Washington, we appreciate it. Have a great day. Thanks.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Rebecca.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center