HANNITY: The latest charge is that you insulted Ronald Regan.
GINGRICH: [Tilts head back; laughs] Let's look at that period. Governor Romney was against Ronald Reagan.
Governor Romney said in the 1994 Senate race he was opposed to going back to the Reagan-Bush policies. Governor Romney was giving money to Democrats and voting for the most liberal Democrat in the 1992 presidential race.
For them to come back and try to fabricate -- I mean ask Michael Reagan, who was there. Ask Tony Dolan who for eight years was Ronald Reagan's chief speechwriter. Ask people who were, for example, the national security adviser -- Bud McFarlane, who for five years worked with me.
This is the kind of fundamentally dishonest campaign. Governor Romney cannot defend his record, he can't defend his past, he can't defend what he's done, and so his goal is to somehow throw enough mud at me, and I think it's all going to wash off because the American people are smart enough.
I first met Ronald Reagan 1974, I campaigned with him in 1980, I helped him for 8 years while he was president. I made a movie about him, I've written a book about him.
To suggest that Governor Romney is more Reagan-like than I am, is an act of total fantasy.
Hannity seems to be referring to this Elliot Abrams story, whose title gives you a pretty good sense of the rest of it: "Gingrich and Reagan: In the 1980's, the candidate repeatedly insulted the president."
One such example:
Gingrich scorned Reagan’s speeches, which moved a party and then a nation, because “the president of the United States cannot discipline himself to use the correct language.” In Afghanistan, Reagan’s policy was marked by “impotence [and] incompetence.”
Thus Gingrich concluded as he surveyed five years of Reagan in power that “we have been losing the struggle with the Soviet empire.” Reagan did not know what he was doing, and “it is precisely at the vision and strategy levels that the Soviet empire today is superior to the free world.”
I'll give a defense and criticism of Newt here.
1. It's probably bad for the party (and, also, weird) that the phrase "insult Reagan" might be a disqualifying story -- especially, when Romney tried to distance himself from Reagan, too.
Should a 2012 primary really hinge on the battles of the 1980's, and particularly, stuff like rhetoric and not policy?
2. Gingrich has so thoroughly attached himself to the Reagan Vehicle that he invites this sort of scrutiny.
If you're going to run as a BFF and heir of someone, you'd better be able to back that BFF-ness up, and Gingrich does seem to have had some issues with Reagan in the 1980's.
3. Newt doesn't really address the specs of the charge that he insulted Reagan, instead relying on broad generalities.