Newt Gingrich speaks to reporters as he arrives for a fundraiser for presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney May 29 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Newt Gingrich walks into a TV store on Leesburg Pike and cracks a joke.
"Well I bet that both of you think that you're working," he says to the owner of Belmont TV, Ken Sickmen, and one of his employees, seemingly referencing President Obama's now infamous "you didn't build that" remark.
Only Gingrich appears to be implying that Obama accused small business owners of just not working at all.
Sickmen, conscious of about a dozen reporters, looks uncomfortable -- he either doesn't hear Gingrich or can't understand him.
"Both of you probably think that you're working," Gingrich says again.
Sickmen, who agreed to let Gingrich come to his store Monday afternoon and deliver a speech on behalf of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney -- Gingrich's former bitter rival -- is eager to be in on the joke.
"Absolutely!" he says.
Gingrich continues in mock condescension, "See you just don't get it."
At that moment, a press aide who works for the Republican National Committee and is shepherding Gingrich through this event on behalf of the Romney campaign suggests that the former House Speaker (R-Ga.) and Sickmen move into a back office to talk privately.
But Gingrich emerges less than five minutes later for the real purpose of his visit: what ends up as a 15-minute give and take with the press on radical Islam, United Nations refugee camps, the glory years when Bill Clinton was president and he was House Speaker, and, oh yeah, how Obama is "a failed left wing president."
To be fair, Gingrich starts out his remarks by hammering Obama. But as three RNC and Romney staffers look on -- one from the wings and two from the back -- Gingrich then proceeds to do what he does best: take questions from the press about anything and reliably provide provocative answers.
Obama's "you didn't build that" comment was "a Freudian slip," Gingrich says.
"This is a business that has been here 69 years. And I don't think it's here because of Barack Obama," Gingrich says, with Sickmen, who spoke first, standing to his left.
"I don't think it's here because of the federal government. It's because people got up every day and went to work, had to meet a customer, had to learn about new technologies. None of these existed 69 years ago," Gingrich says, gesturing to the rows of high-definition TVs surrounding him.
Behind Gingrich and Sickmen the TVs have been programmed to show a Romney campaign logo -- "Built By US!" with US on top of a map of the U.S. -- but elsewhere in the store the U.S. women's volleyball team is playing Brazil in the Summer Olympics. Some of the reporters steal glances at the match as Gingrich speaks.
Perhaps inspired by the volleyball game, which is playing on the TVs in his line of vision, Gingrich riffs on the Olympics.
"You watch the Olympians. I can imagine Obama's speech saying, 'You didn't win that gold medal. Everybody won that gold medal,'" Gingrich says, envisioning a future where Obama is president only of the International Olympic Committee and not the U.S. "Well, that ain't how it works. These Olympians work very hard."
Gingrich brings up Clinton, his old nemesis from the 1990s, without prompting. Clinton is, after all, a proxy for Gingrich to talk about his own speakership, and so he is very excited about the prospect of Clinton having a leading role at the Democratic National Convention in September.
"That will be a lot of fun if it happens this summer," Gingrich says.
"I think that will be a terrific opportunity for those of us who served with President Clinton," Gingrich continues, portraying himself as a brother-in-arms to the president he tried to impeach, "to point out that Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton."
"You look at the Clinton economy, you look at the balanced budgets that I helped write and Clinton signed, you look at welfare reform which Obama just recently tore apart and reversed, you look at all the things that were done to make the economy better for the American people, there is a huge gap between Bill Clinton's efforts to take the Democratic party to the center, and Barack Obama's effort to take it to the left," Gingrich says.
Another reporter asks Gingrich about his 2,500 word op-ed in Politico Monday morning defending Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and four other Republican congressmen who have raised questions about whether the Muslim Brotherhood is influencing the U.S. government. They have been dismissed and criticized by fellow Republicans for doing so.
"National security is never a distraction," Gingrich says.
Was it out of line for the lawmakers to specifically name Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as someone who might have ties to the Islamic group?
"It was not illegitimate," Gingrich says.
Another reporter asks Gingrich what he thinks of Romney's remarks in Jerusalem on Monday morning implying that culture is part of why Israel is more financially prosperous than the Palestinian Authority.
"First of all I think that the United Nations camps have been terrorist training grounds and have been a disaster and have taught socialism," Gingrich says. "There is no private property, there is no future, there is no small business, there is no hope, there's no rule of law. So I think you have to start with that."
"I think it's fair to say why are some places poor, and maybe it's not just because they've been deprived. Maybe it's also because they don't have either the right habits, the right legal structure or the right system of encouragement," he adds.
As he wraps up, Gingrich is asked another question about whether he thinks "radicals have penetrated the U.S. government"?
Gingrich, having already walked several strides away from the microphones, stops. "What?" he asks sharply.
The reporter rephrases the question, asking if "someone is influencing President Obama's positioning."
"I think it's implicit in the letter, in the argument," Gingrich says, and then walks toward the front of the store.
He answers another question, about whether he'll speak at the GOP convention in late August.
"I personally am very comfortable with not giving a speech, because I think frankly there's a whole new generation of candidates out there and people who represent the future," he says.
On his way out, Gingrich looks around him, noticing the RNC and Romney aides.
"Are you guys happy?" he asks. They nod, and Gingrich walks out with his one aide to the parking lot, where a driver in a black sedan waits for him.
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