Oh my: Gingrich finally set to go negative on Romney?

Last week he was promising a stronger counter-punch to Romney’s attacks, this week he’s apparently going to throw roundhouses unprompted.

Eight days to the caucuses. Gloves off.

Gingrich’s campaign, urgently in need of recapturing their momentum from earlier this month, is putting out a statement mocking a new Romney ad, in which the former Massachusetts governor portrays himself as a “conservative businessman.”

“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.'”…

Included with DeSantis’s statement are a slew of past Romney quotes in which he similarly says things that are unhelpful in the context of a GOP presidential primary.

While many of the quotes aren’t new, the combination of a spokesman launching a conventional attack and sending along oppo is certainly novel for Gingrich. He has thrown elbows at Romney in the past, but it was usually a spur-of-the moment move and it came only from the candidate’s mouth. This is a different thing – a planned assault.

So confident are Romney’s advisors now that Paul is threatening to clear the field for him in Iowa that they’re going around telling reporters, “I don’t see any scenario where we’re not the nominee.” (The Boston Herald quotes a Republican strategist: “If you’re Romney, I’d be giving Ron Paul’s supporters rides to the caucus-places.”) Why is Newt focusing on Mitt, then, instead of the guy who’s actually leading in the polls? Two reasons. One: The more the media buzzes about Paul’s newsletters, the greater the odds that the dynamic next Tuesday will be “Paul vs. Stop Paul.” If Newt can damage Romney before then, he might become the default “Stop Paul” option for undecideds. Two: It’s not strictly true that a Paul win in Iowa automatically helps Romney to the nomination. It’s probably true in the sense that Romney is likely to finish second at worst, but what if he finishes fourth or even fifth behind Paul, Gingrich, Bachmann, and/or Perry? That’ll wound him badly headed into New Hampshire; meanwhile, if Gingrich finishes second in Iowa, he (and Huntsman) would be in good shape to become the Stop Paul/Not Romney candidate in New Hampshire. If he won there, then suddenly Romney would be 0 for 2 and taking a ferocious beating in the media for underperforming. That would make a Gingrich victory in South Carolina, where he’s currently leading, seem very likely, and then Romney would try to make a stand in Florida against Newt’s momentum. It’s hard to believe that scenario will play out, but the odds aren’t zero. All that needs to happen to make it possible is Mitt doing badly next Tuesday night. Since Iowa’s a jump ball right now, why not?

Exit question: Why would undecideds in Iowa vote for a guy who can’t figure out how to get on the ballot in all 50 states?