Since breaking into the upper atmosphere of the Republican presidential field, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has waged a campaign against negative campaigning (with notable exemptions for himself) that many see as the necessary act of a broke candidate. Tuesday morning, the political media is pointing to a new opposition memo as evidence that the Gingrich campaign has abandoned its no-attack pledge. Ironically, the “attack” underscores why Mitt Romney is the better candidate to face President Obama in the general election.
I put “attack” in scare-quotes because the memo barely qualifies as such. It’s simply a cobbling-together of various Mitt Romney quotes that portray him as a moderate who’s willing to compromise. The campaign’s statement strikes me as a rather fair, above-the-belt assessment of Romney. From Politico:
“Can we trust a Massachusetts Moderate to enact a conservative agenda?” says Gingrich communications director Joe DeSantis. “Our campaign might have plenty of things to say about that, but the best response certainly comes from Mitt Romney himself: ‘I think people recognize that I am not a partisan Republican. That I’m someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive.'”
While the use of that 2002 “progressive” quote may seem unfair, it will be just that image that Romney will be pivoting back to should he win the GOP nod, and the rest of the quotes from the memo (heavily weighted to Romney’s 1994 US Senate campaign) reinforce the very narrative that the Romney campaign will deploy in a campaign to win the barely-interested (or so-called “independent”) voters who really decide elections. They’re obviously designed to hurt Romney with Republican base voters, but the worst of these, his prior statements about a woman’s right to choose, shouldn’t move the needle in any meaningful way. Romney has a fairly plausible explanation for his “evolution” on the subject. It is worth noting, though, that supposed intellectual Gingrich deployed an attack which contains a medical treatment that’s not only made-up, it’s also a scientific paradox:(emphasis mine)
Romney’s Chief Legal Counsel at the end of his term, Mark Nielsen, was on record as pro-abortion (as a candidate for Congress in 2000), and saw to it that Catholic Hospitals were forced to give “morning-after” abortion pills – clearly misinterpreting a new statute and ignoring constitutional religious freedom protections.
There are also a few quotes that reference Romney’s individual health care mandate, but those cut Gingrich at least as deeply, and they missed the best one (in which Romney explicitly endorses a national mandate).
What’s really telling, though, are the rest of the quotes that Team Gingrich pulls:
“We’ll plug corporate tax loopholes so companies will pay their fair share.”
This is an odd choice, because it not only seems to appeal to independent voters, but even Tea Party conservatives, who pay lip service to closing loopholes while they “broaden the tax base” (translation: squeeze the poor).
“We first have to get a budget in balance before we may have substantial tax cuts.”
(Source: Harvard Crimson, October 21, 1994)
Again, while conservatives are supposed to have a knee-jerk positive reaction to tax cuts, the emphasis in this quote is on a balanced budget, which appeals to conservatives and independents.
Romney’s primary argument for the nomination is his “electability,” which rests on his appeal to “independents” who see, in Romney, a guy who agrees with them, at least on any given Sunday. To the less engaged voter, Romney the “moderate” probably represents a chance to break the gridlock that turns them off. That’s the problem: they pay enough attention to vote, but not enough attention to know that gridlock is better than letting a GOP congress run roughshod over a squishy GOP president, or giving them a zealot like Gingrich as an ally.
Conversely, Gingrich is hoping that the conservative base would rather nominate a guy who can’t win over a guy who might win, and whose moderate views won’t make a damn bit of difference with a Republican-controlled Congress.
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