NEW YORK — Republican Newt Gingrich praised Donald Trump as a "true American icon" Monday, and said he had persuaded the celebrity real estate mogul to mentor a group of children from New York City's poorest schools. Trump said he was impressed by the former House speaker's strong showing in the GOP presidential contest, but said he would refrain from endorsing a candidate until after he hosts a televised debate in Iowa a week before that state's caucuses.
Gingrich was making several stops in New York the same day his campaign debuted a new television ad in Iowa. He's hoping to capitalize on polls showing him leading top rival Mitt Romney nationally and in Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest January 3.
Gingrich met privately with Trump, who flirted with a bid for the Republican nomination last spring and has hosted many of the GOP contenders in the Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan.
Gingrich, who recently sparked controversy by suggesting disadvantaged children as young as 9 should be encouraged to clean their schools in order to learn about work, told reporters he had pressed Trump to help train needy youngsters.
The idea, Gingrich said, would be "to get them into the world of work, get them into the opportunity to earn money, to get them into the habit of showing up and realizing that effort is rewarded and America is all about the work ethic."
Trump, who hosts the reality show "Celebrity Apprentice," said he was happy to take up Gingrich's challenge.
"I thought it was a great idea," Trump said. "We're going to be picking 10 young wonderful children and make them 'apprenti.' We're going to have a little fun with it."
Gingrich said he was pleased to participate in the Trump-hosted debate and dismissed criticism from rival Ron Paul that such a forum demeaned the presidency.
"This is a country that elected a peanut farmer to the presidency. This is a country that elected an actor who made two movies with a chimpanzee to the presidency," Gingrich said, referring to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. "Donald Trump is a great showman; he's also a great businessman. I think one of the differences between my party and the other party is we actually go to people who know how to create jobs. We need to be open to new ways of doing things."
Trump has hinted he might run for president as an Independent if Republicans nominate a candidate who can't beat President Barack Obama. Trump sidestepped questions about a potential run but said he believes Paul has "zero chance" of getting the nomination.