Former President Bill Clinton is offering some surprising praise for Newt Gingrich. The question in political circles is whether Clinton's positive words will help or hurt his old nemesis.
In an interview with Newsmax, Clinton said, "He's articulate and he tries to think of a conservative version of an idea that will solve a legitimate problem." As an example, Clinton cited the former House speaker's controversial remarks about immigration in last week's national security debate among Republican presidential candidates. Clinton commented that, "He said, 'OK, I don't want to legitimize immigrants who came here undocumented, illegally. On the other hand, a lot of those people have been here for years, they worked hard, they paid taxes, they've got kids in the schools, they're not criminals, we're going to have a hard time sending them all home, there's millions of them. So, I'd like to have a process where they could be here legally but not have a path to citizenship.' That sort of splits the difference between the immigration reforms proposed by President Bush and President Obama, which would give a path to citizenship and would be a version of what President Reagan did."[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]
Clinton also praised Gingrich for proposing a creative idea to improve Social Security: Letting workers choose to invest their Social Security funds privately, but providing that if the stock market drops, government would guarantee that workers would not receive less in retirement than they would have received under the traditional Social Security system. "See, that's a new wrinkle on this," Clinton said. "...I think he's doing well just because he's thinking, and people are hungry for ideas that make some sense."
Clinton fought repeatedly with Gingrich when they both were in office, but they also worked together on issues including welfare reform and cutting the deficit.
Clinton isn't a popular figure among many Republicans. His praise could actually be a negative for Gingrich, who has been surging in GOP presidential polls recently. Some GOP activists will inevitably wonder, if such a prominent Democrat likes some of Gingrich's major positions, is that a sign that Gingrich isn't a reliable conservative? [See a slide show of Newt Gingrich's career]
Clinton gave the interview to Newsmax to promote his new book, Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy.