As I predicted yesterday, Mitt Romney has decided to attack Newt Gingrich in Iowa in an attempt to get conservatives to rethink their new allegiance to the frontrunner du jour — and Romney knows just where to aim. In a new 60-second spot, the campaign hammers Gingrich for his attack on Paul Ryan’s budget-reform plan earlier this year, and stressed this line of attack in a conference call with the media yesterday:
Though Romney himself didn’t embrace Paul Ryan’s budget proposal in the spring, Talent and Sununu attacked Gingrich for distancing himself from the plan, which Gingrich dubbed “right-wing social engineering” in May on “Meet the Press” before walking the statement back days later.
“For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self-aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that has no other purpose than to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan, is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one can imagine happening,” Sununu said.
During the 21-minute call, the two mentioned Ryan’s name 25 times.
On MSNBC minutes later, Sununu mentioned Ryan 10 times during a five-minute hit. He called Gingrich “a faux conservative” and added: “I believe Newt Gingrich is a Gingrichite. All he cares about is Newt Gingrich.”
This attack is effective because it comes after Gingrich’s reinvention. Gingrich can chalk up his partnership with Nancy Pelosi as a big mistake and can explain away his political and personal baggage from years gone by as lessons learned the hard way. The attack on Ryan as a purveyor of “right-wing social engineering” came just a few months ago, when Gingrich was already a candidate in this cycle. Gingrich has tried to soften that criticism since then and claimed that the only objection he had was that Ryan didn’t leave the option to allow people to stay in the current system, but that would negate the reform entirely. Keeping the current structure of Medicare while at the same time adding a premium-support option would be close to what we have now with Medicare Advantage, only in Gingrich’s version we would have more money flowing out of the system.
It’s interesting that Romney is conducting this attack with his own campaign. His super-PAC launched an attack ad on Obama in Iowa this week, which one would have expected from a traditional campaign, so we’re seeing a bit of role reversal here. The campaign’s imprimatur underscores just how urgent they see their task in slowing down Gingrich’s momentum, especially with Tea Party voters who idolize Paul Ryan. Romney may not pick up that support if those voters do dump Gingrich, but Romney doesn’t really need to do so, as long as they don’t rally to one alternative candidate alone, especially Rick Perry.
Romney’s not likely to get that support, either, unless he learns to engage better with conservatives. Matt Lewis offers a facepalm moment from Team Romney’s pitch to argue that they’re more conservative than Gingrich:
As you probably heard, some Mitt Romney surrogates hosted a conference call today to attack Newt Gingrich. Because Romney is attempting to win a Republican primary — and cast Newt Gingrich as unacceptable to conservatives — you probably assume that center-right journalists or conservative bloggers got to ask some questions, right?
Wrong. Here’s the list of reporters and media outlets who were permitted to ask questions:
JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS
MARK HALPERIN, TIME
LLOYD GROVE, THE DAILY BEAST
EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, TPM
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES
PHIL RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST
That’s it. No Townhall.com, HotAir, Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, National Review, Weekly Standard, American Spectator, or Washington Times … you get the picture.
Mother Jones? TPM? Great roll call you fellow had, there, for a lecture on conservatism. As far as I know, we didn’t get an invitation to this conference call, although to be fair we were so swamped with registration issues that we could have easily missed it. But if Team Romney wants to argue for conservative support — or at least to argue that conservatives shouldn’t support Gingrich — shouldn’t they be talking with conservative media to get that message out?