Contact Us

For Gingrich, Attacks On Romney Come With Risk

Win McNamee/Getty Images

SALEM, N.H. (AP) — Mitt Romney is a timid Massachusetts moderate, a flip-flopper on abortion and gun rights. As governor, he raised taxes and even tried to hike fees on the blind. Also, Romney is a liar full of “pious baloney” — according to Newt Gingrich.

The former House speaker left his “positive campaign” strategy behind in the cornfields of Iowa, where Romney’s allies smacked him with a series of negative ads that helped knock Gingrich out of contention in the state’s leadoff caucuses.

Plowing through New Hampshire before Tuesday’s primary, Gingrich is indulging an innate sharp edge that has won him attention — and enemies — from his days as a back-bencher in the House in the 1980s. Now as always, he risks nicking himself in the process.

“Gingrich is doing it the way you shouldn’t, which is a mean, nasty, transparently negative attack on Mitt Romney,” says Michael Dennehy, the political director for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign four years ago. “It comes across to everyone now. It helps Mitt Romney’s opponents. It’s not going to help him.”

Some New Hampshire voters are pushing back.

At a health care event in Lebanon an attendee, Peter Miller, lectured Gingrich for “conducting politics as if you were a suicide bomber engaged in hostage negotiation.”

Gingrich demurred.

“I think that’s a mythology,” he replied.

Gingrich knows firsthand that attacks can be effective and risky. He made a career of attacking opponents personally, from House Speaker Jim Wright on down. Gingrich’s rhetorical aggression also helped him lead the Republicans to the House majority in 1994. But Gingrich’s style left him little goodwill among his own lieutenants. He was forced to resign as speaker after the 1998 GOP election losses.

As a presidential candidate in the 2012 election, he was bloodied in Iowa by millions of dollars in brutal television ads, many funded by a super PAC backing Romney. Once a frontrunner in Iowa polls, Gingrich tumbled to a distant fourth-place finish in the state.

Winning Our Future, a super PAC supporting Gingrich, has purchased $3.4 million in ad buys in South Carolina, according to Rick Tyler, who is helping lead the effort. The spots, in what is considered a critical state for the former Georgia congressman, are expected to go after Romney.

Contrasting records is fair game, Gingrich says, issuing a new pledge against slinging mud.

“I don’t have the money and I will not engage in the kind of vicious negativity that, frankly, drove me down in Iowa,” he said Friday night to an overflow crowd packed into a high-school cafeteria in Salem. “I’m going to fight honestly on the facts and draw the contrasts.”

But Gingrich is famous for hyperbole and a lightning-fast response reflex that, deployed effectively, can knock a candidate as robust as Romney.

“The only reason you didn’t become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994,” Gingrich shot across the debate stage last month, hitting a bull’s-eye with his reference to Romney’s unsuccessful Senate bid.

Other times, Gingrich’s frankness can be harsh.

He has called Romney a liar and also said President Barack Obama would laugh at Romney if he were the nominee.

And during a pair of presidential debates over the weekend, Gingrich held little back.

He called Romney “a relatively timid Massachusetts moderate who even the Wall Street Journal said had an economic plan so timid it resembled Obama.”

When Romney denied being a career politician, Gingrich chided him: “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?”

It’s all left some in New Hampshire — where Romney is close to a hometown boy — scratching their heads.

“Is the purpose to destroy Romney? Very often this becomes a double-sided sword,” said Phyllis Woods, New Hampshire’s Republican national committeewoman, who also worries that Gingrich could be unintentionally helping Democrats.

“I think there is a danger that the negativity expressed by Newt Gingrich could work against him,” she said. “But it’s certainly not good for the party as a whole. I would hope people would count to 10 and take a deep breath.”

There’s a long and storied history of candidates in both parties ripping into each other during primary campaigns only to make up afterward.

Hillary Rodham Clinton regularly attacked Obama four years ago, calling him “a hypocrite,” among other insults. Clinton, of course, is now the secretary of state in the Obama administration. Sen. John McCain assailed Romney in the hard-fought 2008 campaign but endorsed him this go-round.

And Sam Pimm, Gingrich’s New Hampshire field operations director, said he’s heard no complaints from residents.

“I think it’s about time people heard the truth about Governor Romney’s record,” he said.

But Gingrich’s problem, other New Hampshire Republicans say, stems from his recent promise not to go negative.

“He was supposed to be the nice positive guy and framed himself that way,” said Kevin Smith, a GOP candidate for New Hampshire governor. “It’s only an issue because he seems to be going back on his word of running a positive campaign.”

Recommended For You

Best of the Web

Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

*Please note that your prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing VIP profile. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to using your original account information.

*Please note that your prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

(Forgot your password?)

Not a member? Sign up here

Sign up for K2 Fan Club quickly by connecting your Facebook account. It's just as secure and no password to remember!

Sign up to have exclusive K2 Fan Club contests, events, coupons, presales, and much more delivered to you for FREE.