On Friday, Joseph Rago warned in the Wall Street Journal that Newt Gingrich’s planned attacks on Mitt Romney suggested that the former Speaker’s temper might lead him to commit a strategic blunder:
Mr. Romney’s political ruthlessness seems to inspire this kind of personal loathing among his opponents, John McCain and Mike Huckabee being notable exemplars from 2008. But the larger political question is how, exactly, Mr. Gingrich will choose to conduct his war. As Speaker, he was volatile and erratic, claiming upon his resignation in 1998 that he couldn’t tolerate “mindless cannibalism” in the Republican caucus. The irony is that a more measured and restrained case would likely be most effective against Mr. Romney — painstakingly highlighting his record, as Mr. Gingrich’s rivals did in Iowa — but that isn’t always Mr. Gingrich’s M.O.
Rago looks prescient, as Gingrich has decided to attack Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, in the process painting both Romney and the process of creative destruction as moral failures. Yet Gingrich is doing more than just echoing the drum circles of Occupy Wall Street. He has apparently convinced the other GOP candidates to follow down this path.
Mark Halperin quotes Jon Huntsman–playing off this awkward verbal miscue from Romney–as saying that “Governor Romney enjoys firing people; I enjoy creating jobs.” Rick Perry, for his part, offered: “I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out.”
The urge to pile on a faltering frontrunner is irresistible, surely. But as Jonathan noted earlier, any Republican nominee will be painted by Obama as these candidates are painting Romney now. The desire to resist being hammered by their own words in a general election alone should be enough to convince these candidates to avoid attacking Romney from the left.
But it also won’t work; conservatives are already groaning at having to defend Romney from his rivals. In Gingrich’s case, it’s more understandable, since Romney blitzed the Iowa airwaves with attacks on Gingrich’s record. But both Huntsman and especially Perry have records to run on that contrast in their favor with Romney’s. Perry, in fact, jumped into the lead as soon as he announced his candidacy in part because he has a record as governor that would make any Republican national office seeker green with envy. And Perry’s campaign manifesto was the most libertarian of anyone outside Ron Paul.
Perry’s record remains his best chance at drawing back in the voters he lost earlier to candidates who are no longer in the race. Huntsman, meanwhile, has been trying to fend off accusations he’s too liberal for the GOP base. Neither will be well served going forward by joining in Gingrich’s fit of pique. It isn’t presidential, and they’ve got better things to talk about.