Romney Campaign Begins To Unload On Gingrich
Mitt Romney's campaign seems have Newt Gingrich targeted.
With a debate coming on Saturday that promises to be the toughest, and perhaps most important, to date, and the Gingrich and Romney forces headed into a January that looks like a month long Battle Royale, the Romney campaign today began to pivot its attention toward Newt Gingrich in a way it hasn’t done so until now:
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign launched a coordinated assault Thursday on former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s leadership, temperament and commitment to a conservative agenda.
The Romney campaign deployed two top surrogates — former senator Jim Talent of Missouri, who served under Gingrich in the House, and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who worked with Gingrich as a White House chief of staff — to accuse Gingrich of “self-aggrandizement.”
In a conference call with reporters, Talent and Sununu said that Gingrich’s comments earlier this year calling Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan “right-wing social engineering” were part of a pattern of statements over several decades that undercut the conservative agenda.
“The speaker’s running as a reliable and trusted conservative leader, and what we’re here to say with reluctance but clearly is that he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable and trustworthy leader,” Talent said.
“Speaker Gingrich says interesting and insightful things,” Talent added. “He can explain them well on many occasions. He also says outrageous things that come from nowhere, and he has a tendency to say them at the exact time when they most undermine the conservative agenda.”
When asked by one reporter, Talent and Sununu declined to criticize Gingrich’s personal behavior. But both of them zeroed in on Gingrich’s criticism of Ryan’s plan in a “Meet the Press” interview on NBC News last spring.
“For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that had no other purpose than to try to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan, is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one could imagine happening,” Sununu said Thursday. “He gave the liberals and the Democrats the ammunition they needed to moot, at least for the time being, Paul Ryan’s presentation.”
A few minutes later, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” Sununu said: “I believe Newt Gingrich is a Gingrichite. All he cares about is Newt Gingrich.”
It’s a fairly stark indictment of Gingrich by the people who served with him in Congress and worked with him in Government. Of course, there are several questions that remain. One is whether things like this even matter to Republican voters at this point. As I’ve noted several times already, it’s not like the details of Newt Gingrich’s past are news to anyone who pays even a modicum of attention to politics. For reasons that perhaps only they can explain, a sizable portion of Republican voters seem to be completely discounting that record, and rather than recognizing that Gingrich is the same kind of flip-flopper on issues supposedly of importance to conservatives that they accuse Romney of being, they are treating him like a hero. If that continues, this new surrogates attack isn’t necessarily going to hurt Gingrich in the race for the Republican nomination, although they are likely to be additional ammunition for Democrats and their surrogates in the event that Gingrich actually ends up winning the Republican nomination.
The other question is whether these surrogate attacks are a preview of what we’re likely to hear from Romney himself. As Chris Cillizza notes, at some point these attacks are going to lose whatever edge they have if the candidate doesn’t endorse them:
Having a surrogate launch such attacks isn’t as powerful as running an ad to that effect, and Sununu’s comments didn’t seem to be planned — his “off the cuff” remarks appeared to be genuinely off the cuff — but they still represents a pretty significant attack in a race that hasn’t seen all that much back and forth to date.
Romney will now be asked whether he agrees with Sununu that Gingrich doesn’t have the necessary restraint to be commander in chief and he’ll need to decide whether he backs up his surrogate or seeks to downplay the attack.
Regardless, Sununu’s comments represent a powerful opening salvo against Gingrich, and, if conservatives see the Romney campaign’s attacks on Gingrich as beyond the pale, there could be a rallying effect behind the former House Speaker.
At this point, of course, Romney’s team needs to try something to regain its position as the frontrunner in the race.
It’s a risky strategy, but Romney may have no other choice at this point. Gingrich doesn’t seem to be like the other candidates that have risen up to challenge Romney and, given the minimal amount of time between now and the kickoff event of the primary season on January 3rd, it’s looking less and less likely that he will implode on his own. At this point, Romney would seem to benefit from reminding voters of who Newt Gingrich really is and hoping that Gingrich’s relative lack of organization means that may not be able to capitalize on his currently high poll numbers. We’ll see the extent of this new Romney strategy on Saturday, when the candidates meet for the first to two pre-Holiday debates. Already, we’ve seen that Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman have no reluctance to foreswear from attacking Gingrich. Soon we’ll see if Romney himself decides to join in.