Romney, And Surrogates, Go Negative On Gingrich
Less than a day after taking a bruising in South Carolina, the Romney campaign seems to be pivoting to a strategy that involves going far more negative on Newt Gingrich than they had been in the Palmetto State. It started on Meet The Press where Romney surrogate Chris Christie went right after Gingrich as only he can:
Romney surrogate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Newt Gingrich an embarrassment to the Republican Party on Sunday, one day after the former House Speaker rode a late surge to victory in the South Carolina primary.
“I think Newt Gingrich has embarrassed the party, over time,” Christie (R), who has endorsed Romney, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Gov. Romney never has.”
When pressed on how Gingrich had embarrassed the Republican party, Christie mentioned said that Gingrich had been pressured to resign from the House of Representatives in 1998 and had been fined for House ethics violations.
“We all know the record,” Christie added. “I mean he was run out of the speakership by his own party, he was fined $300,000 for ethics violations. This is a guy that’s had a very difficult career at times and has been an embarrassment to the party.”
Christie suggested the former House speaker’s record could predict what he would be like as president.
“I’m not saying he will do it again in the future, but sometimes past is prologue,” Christie said.
At one of his first post-South Carolina campaign appearances in the Sunshine State late yesterday, Romney repeated the theme:
ORMOND BEACH, Fla. — Mitt Romney landed here Sunday with a simple message: Newt Gingrich is a failure and a fraud. And a disgrace. And a hapless showman.
Standing under a brilliant orange Florida sunset, Romney delivered his longest sustained critique of the South Carolina primary winner to date — ticking through a list as if he were reading off Gingrich’s Wikipedia page, and undercutting each item as he got to it.
“Speaker Gingrich has also been a leader,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “He was a leader for four years as speaker of the House. And at the end of four years, it was proven that he was a failed leader and he had to resign in disgrace. I don’t know whether you knew that, he actually resigned after four years, in disgrace.
Romney continued: “He was investigated over an ethics panel and had to make a payment associated with that and then his fellow Republicans, 88 percent of his Republicans voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich. He has not had a record of successful leadership.”
Then Romney got into Gingrich’s post-congressional career.
“Over the last 15 years since he left the House, he talks about great bold movements and ideas,” he told the crowd of several hundred people gathered at a building materials company here. “Well, what’s he been doing for 15 years? He’s been working as a lobbyist, yeah, he’s been working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington.”
To cap the riff, Romney brought it back to Florida’s depressed housing market, and the role Freddie Mac, for which Gingrich worked, played in the real estate crash here. And he renewed his demand that Gingrich release records of the work he did for the housing lender.
“What was his work product there? What was he doing at Freddie Mac? Because Freddie Mac figures in very prominently in the fact that people in Florida have seen home values go down — it’s time to turn that around!”
But he wasn’t done: Romney laid into Gingrich’s bombastic stage presence that’s helped him so much on the stump and in the campaign’s many debates — the next of which is coming up Monday night.
“We’re not choosing a talk show host, all right? We’re choosing a leader, we’re choosing the person who should be the leader of the free world,” Romney said.
Romney’s campaign is doubling down on this theme already today, with several campaign appearances and a surrogate conference call focusing on Gingrich and his role at Freddie Mac after he left Congress. It’s a theme we heard before, back in December, and it seemed to work at least to some extent. I’m not sure it will work now, though. If South Carolina is any indication, it seems that Republican voters have already discounted Gingrich’s past and continue to view the candidate with rose colored glasses that filter out his many, many flaws.
More importantly, though, past history has indicated that Romney isn’t necessary very good when he goes on the attack. He was quite effective at it when he went after Rick Perry on issues like Social Security and immigration, but then Rick Perry was no Newt Gingrich and never really defended himself. If you go back to 2008, you see that Romney didn’t do very well on the offensive against either McCain or Huckabee, which is likely one of the reasons he ended up getting eclipsed by both of them. Tonight’s debate will be the big test for Romney and it will either work, or it will fail and Romney will have another set of problems to deal with.