At a recent campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, a reporter asked Newt Gingrich what his greatest weakness is. “It’s probably that I’m too reasonable,” the former Speaker said, apparently unaware of any irony in his answer.

This illustrates why the question “What is your greatest weakness?” (like the question, “What has been your biggest mistake?”) should be retired permanently. Honesty lands a candidate in hot water; who wants to elect a fellow who candidly admits he’s arrogant, prone to grandiosity or power-hungry? But the pseudo-answer makes anyone who gives it seem disingenuous or at least a little pretentious.

But, actually, in context, Gingrich’s remark might have more truth than it appears to at first. Here’s why: He followed up his first preposterous sentence with this: “I should have responded to the negative ads sooner.” If by “I’m too reasonable,” Gingrich meant that he put too much stock in the idea that a civil campaign would win him friends and earn him no enemies, then he absolutely is too reasonable. It was a nice idea — and one I wish would have worked — but politics is a grubby game and Gingrich’s uncharacteristic attempt to keep it all clean does seem to have backfired. After all, he now runs a distant fourth in Iowa.

The primary begins but doesn’t end with the Iowa caucuses, though — and, at another recent campaign stop, the former Speaker said he’ll be nice-guy Gingrich no more, although he intends to keep even his attacks on an elevated plane (that is, no distortions or lies). The Sioux City Journal reports:

“New Hampshire is the perfect state to have a debate over Romneycare and to have a debate about tax-paid abortions, which he signed, and to have a debate about putting Planned Parenthood on a government board, which he signed. And to have a debate about appointing liberal judges, which he did,” Gingrich told reporters at a stop in Marshalltown.

“And so I think New Hampshire is a good place to start the debate for South Carolina.”

Unlike some Republicans who are making a beeline for South Carolina, Gingrich said he would campaign in New Hampshire.

If Iowa has been especially volatile, it seems safe to say that, even after the first-in-the-nation caucus, the GOP presidential race will remain a little uneven. Gingrich might not have the credibility to attack Romney on the individual mandate (which he also has supported) of a Michele Bachmann or a Rick Santorum, but he likely still has enough bite to his bark to weaken Romney.