Commentary Magazine


Sununu? What is Romney Thinking?

I tend to think that the role endorsements and surrogates play in a campaign is overstated. But both Marc Thiessen and Tony Blankley raise a good question: What on earth is the Romney campaign thinking in using former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu as its lead attacker against Newt Gingrich? After all, Sununu – who was chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush — played a key role in convincing Bush to break his “no new taxes” pledge and, even more  significantly, championed David Souter for the Supreme Court. For many conservatives, these are discrediting acts. And Gingrich, to his credit, warned the Bush 41 administration about the damage Bush’s tax reversal would cause.

Blankley quotes Marlin Fitzwater, who was the presidential press secretary at the time and no fan of Gingrich’s, as saying, “As it turned out, one of the few people on the Republican team who understood this trap (the Democrats demanded Bush raise taxes as the political price to reduce the deficit) was Newt Gingrich. … Newt had … recommended a different course of action: Abandon the budget negotiations (with the Democrats), keep the tax pledge, insist that Congress cut spending, and make a political fight out of it. It’s clear now that we should have followed his advice.”

Newt Gingrich is coming under a lot of fire these days (I have registered my own concerns several times). But he also has some impressive achievements to his credit, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Both Gingrich and Romney are flawed; Republican voters will have to sort through their strengths and weaknesses, their flip flops and temperaments, their public and private characters, their core beliefs and debating skills, and their electability and contributions to conservatism over the years. My own view is that Gingrich possesses both more obvious strengths and more obvious weaknesses than Romney. But whatever the case, there are appropriate and inappropriate lines of attack, even in a primary race. And for John Sununu to go after Gingrich for his “$500,000 outstanding bill at Tiffany’s” is, I think, silly and unfair.

Sununu was the target of intemperate attacks when he was President Bush’s chief of staff; he should bear that in mind as the campaign heats up.