After a week of increasingly harsh attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record, Newt Gingrich may have finally recognized he has gone too far. According to Politico, when asked to reconsider his attempt to brand the Republican frontrunner as a “predatory capitalist” by a Rick Santorum supporter at a South Carolina event, Gingrich admitted it was a mistake:
“I’m here to implore one thing of you. I think you’ve missed the target on the way you’re addressing Romney’s weaknesses. I want to beg you to redirect and go after his obvious disingenousness about his conservatism and lay off the corporatist versus the free market. I think it’s nuanced,” Dean Glossop, an Army Reservist from Inman, S.C., said.
“I agree with you,” Gingrich said. “It’s an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect. … I agree with you entirely.”
But it remains to be seen whether supporters of the former speaker will get with the program.
A pro-Gingrich super PAC has made a $3.4 million airtime buy in South Carolina for a documentary that portrays Romney’s career at Bain Capital in a negative light. The blowback from what many conservatives consider a leftist line of argument pursued by Gingrich and Rick Perry has hurt them more than the charge has damaged Romney. If the documentary airs after Gingrich’s admission that the line of attack is inappropriate, the controversy could prove to be yet another setback for his faltering campaign.
The attack was the product of Gingrich’s bitterness at the negative ads run by pro-Romney super PACs that highlighted negative aspects of his record. But the revenge that Gingrich attempted to exact said a lot more about his hypocrisy and well-known intolerance for criticism than anything else. Though some conservatives defended Gingrich’s decision to portray Romney as a heartless plutocrat laying off defenseless workers on the grounds that the Democrats were bound to use it anyway, even some of Romney’s critics were repelled by the tactic that struck them as adopting the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
By now admitting his mistake, Gingrich might help get the conversation in South Carolina back to Romney’s weaknesses to conservatives such as his flip-flops on social issues and health care. But if the film airs and Gingrich tries to rationalize it or distance his candidacy from the attack, it will make him look even worse than if he had never disavowed it. Ironically, though Gingrich claims he is the “true conservative” running against a moderate, so long as Republicans are discussing this issue, Romney can put himself forward, as he did last night in his New Hampshire victory speech, as a defender of free enterprise against liberal Democrats and “desperate Republicans.”
That’s a formula for another disastrous defeat for Gingrich that could mean the end of his presidential run.