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Newt Gingrich's attack on Paul Ryan backfires. Can his campaign recover?

Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign is off to a rocky start, as GOP lawmakers and conservative commentators force him to backpedal on health care and Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plans.

By Staff Writer / May 17, 2011

Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich laughs during his May 15 appearance on "Meet the Press" in Washington.

William B. Plowman / NBC NewsWire / Reuters

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Newt Gingrich seems to be taking a page from Joe Biden's playbook.

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Less than a week after announcing his presidential candidacy, Mr. Gingrich is playing defense on comments that most of his party find unacceptable.

In then-Senator Biden's case, the big story on the day he filed paperwork for his presidential candidacy was, instead, his remarks calling Barack Obama the "first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean."

Gingrich's remarks – attacking Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan and leaning toward an individual healthcare mandate – were less of the foot-in-mouth variety, but perhaps even more reprehensible to fellow Republicans, who have quickly fallen in step to reprimand the former House leader.

A few are already declaring the nascent campaign finished.

Now on the road in Iowa, where he hoped to be developing his campaign message, Gingrich is still answering questions about the Meet the Press comments he made Sunday, and furiously backpedaling.

To be sure, Congressman Ryan has faced criticism before about his budget proposal, passed earlier this year by House Republicans, turning Medicare into a voucher-like program. And Gingrich's comments may make it even easier for Democrats to attack his budget.

But in this case, the loser in the Ryan flap seems to be Gingrich, whose candidacy is being questioned by the very conservatives he's trying to woo.

On Sunday, he called Ryan's proposal an example of "right-wing social engineering," and suggested it was an attempt to impose "radical change" on Americans.

When asked whether he supported an individual healthcare mandate, he responded, "You ought to have some requirement – where you either have health insurance, or you post a bond, or in some way you indicate that you're going to be held accountable."

The fallout was quick – and vicious.

"With allies like that, who needs the left?" Ryan commented on Laura Ingraham's radio show.

Multiple conservative personalities, including Rush Limbaugh and Bill Bennett, have attacked him.

Bennett called the remarks "an unforgivable mistake" on his radio program, adding that Gingrich has "taken himself out of serious consideration for the race."

The Wall Street Journal summarized the remarks as a "drop dead" statement to the House Republican leadership, particularly taking Gingrich to task for use of the word "radical."

Other GOP lawmakers have also lined up behind Ryan. Ryan's proposal might be "a little bit of a risk," argued Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, but it's "not a radical idea."

Gingrich is trying hard to undo the damage.

He issued a YouTube video making clear that he opposes Obama's healthcare plan. And in a conference call with conservative bloggers, Gingrich said he used "language that was too strong," and that he was reaching out to Ryan.

But will it be enough to rescue an already-struggling campaign?

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