At a Tea Party rally in Florida today, Newt Gingrich upped his attacks on Mitt Romney’s wealth, casting it as a negative that Romney was a “moneymaking independent” in the 80s and 90s. Betraying his own bias in favor of “public service” (a euphemism if I’ve ever heard one!), Gingrich additionally criticized Romney for a lack of interest in politics during those decades.
Then, somewhat contradictorily, Gingrich circled back to Romney’s political record — what ought to be Romney’s true vulnerability with the GOP base — and criticized it, as well. That attack — tart and to the point — was far more effective than the former Speaker’s critique of Romney’s impartial capitalistic credentials — and delivered a deliciously memorable line to boot.
Gingrich argued Romney tries to hide his political history in which he campaigned with a more moderate platform during his Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.
“He is counting on us not having YouTube. That’s how much he thinks we’re stupid, and we’re not stupid,” Gingrich said. “The message we should give Mitt Romney is you know, `We aren’t that stupid and you aren’t that clever’.”
The former speaker conceded the weight of the ads coming from the Romney campaign has hurt his campaign, but sought to remind voters where Romney, who holds stock in Goldman Sachs, gets his money.
“Let’s be really clear, you’re watching ads paid for with the money taken from the people of Florida by companies like Goldman Sachs, recycled back into ads to try to stop you from having a choice in this election,” Gingrich said. “That’s what this is all about.”
In his brief speech at the rally, Gingrich displayed all his political savvy. He repeatedly used the word “we” to refer to the people of Florida and himself, and, by his tone, emphasized that he is running as an “establishment outsider.” How he came to claim that label is still somewhat of a mystery, but Ann Coulter suggests “the establishment” has come to mean nothing more than “those who support Mitt Romney.” As I’ve written before, I’d rather all the candidates be forthcoming about their connections to the D.C. swampland and stop trying to delude us into thinking they’re one of “us,” but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Meantime, Gingrich’s comments also highlight the weaknesses of Romney’s strategy. Just as Gingrich said, Romney has downplayed his political past in the primaries, knowing that few-to-none of his achievements as Massachusetts governor would appeal to conservatives. He has run, instead, on his record as a private businessman — but that strategy might not play well at all in the general. At least, Obama’s advisers seem not to be worried about a Romney candidacy:
They argue that, at a time when many Americans see economic and political systems that appear to be stacked against them, Romney’s decision to base his campaign message on his work at a private equity firm could be a major mistake.
What Obama’s advisers say they did not anticipate was the degree to which Romney would compound that vulnerability through missteps.
“These are all self-inflicted,” said one adviser to the president who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the campaign candidly. “He has done as much damage to himself with how he’s handled this as anything his opponents have said about him. That’s why I think he’s made it worse.”
Questions have been raised about his personal finances, highlighted by the tax returns he released this week that show not only enormous wealth and a low effective tax rate but also a Swiss bank account (now closed) and investments in the Cayman Islands. Adding to those are statements Romney has made recently that ordinary Americans might interpret as a sign of insensitivity to their struggles.
Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s wealth, then, might sound sour to some conservatives, but they’re a pretty good preview of what would be to come from the Obama camp should Romney become the nominee.
From now until the day the GOP selects its nominees, the candidate-on-candidate attacks will only grow sharper — but I’m in the camp that thinks those attacks will also just sharpen the eventual nominee, numbing him to whatever attacks Obama introduces (most of which will have been fleshed out anyway!) and, above all, preparing him for the actual presidency, an office that inevitably draws far more criticism than it does praise for the officeholder.