Gingrich on Romney: 'It's a Joke for Him to Call Himself a Conservative. It's a Saturday Night Live Skit'

By Susan Jones | January 6, 2012 | 6:03 AM EST

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a town hall meeting, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, in Littleton, N.H. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

( – At a Tea Party town hall meeting in Meredith, N.H. Thursday night, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the crowd that calling Mitt Romney a conservative is a joke -- like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit.

The comment came after Gingrich was asked about attacks on his character – and his refusal to respond in kind: “I am going to run a campaign worthy of my grandchildren,” he said.

Gingrich said he’s running for president, not for personal gain, but because he wants to help the country: “And I think I can help the United States of America by being an honest citizen and telling the truth. And I believe actually, in the end, we will win doing that. I think we'll do better in New Hampshire than people expect, because when you start to describe a Massachusetts moderate (a reference to Mitt Romney) and you remind people of his record, and suddenly they go, ‘Oh, yeah – he’s not a conservative.’ It's a joke for him to call himself a conservative. It's a Saturday Night Live skit.”

Gingrich, describing himself as a “Reagan Republican,” said he believes by the time the South Carolina primary rolls around, voters will see “there’s a real choice.”

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“I don't mind contrast,” Gingrich said. “I'm saying some fairly strong things tonight that are issued based, public policy, difference about things like liberal judges versus conservative judges. But I'm not going to attack him (Romney) personally, I'm not going to defame him, I'm not going to lie about it. And if that's the price of being president, I don't want it.  Because I don't think that presidency is worth having, because it won't fix anything in Washington."

Gingrich said he couldn’t govern if he used the techniques that Romney -- and Romney’s supporters -- are using against him:

"You try to win the presidency with that kind of stuff, and you have no reservoir of good will. You have no capacity to draw on the American people, and in the end you can't govern."

Gingrich noted that George W. Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 in a "nasty vicious campaign." In the end the "anti-Kerry vote" was slightly larger than the "anti-Bush vote." Then Bush “turned around and tried to pass Social Security reform and he couldn't get it off the ground because he had 48 percent of the country opposed from day one."

Gingrich said the country is in need of “fundamental” change, and he said he would like to be “the best paycheck president in American history."