Just two days before the crucial Florida primary, Newt Gingrich launched a jarring assault on Mitt Romney, including attempts to tar him as a dishonest candidate using language that stopped just short of calling Romney a liar.
“Some of the attacks on me have been breathtakingly dishonest,” Gingrich said on ABC’s This Week. “And I think as that deepens, the conservatives are going to come together and decide they do not want a Massachusetts liberal to be the Republican nominee.”
Gingrich went on to accuse the former Massachusetts governor of making untrue statements in his advertisements, in his campaign rhetoric and on the debate stage, where the candidates have now met 19 times. “I don’t know how you debate a person with civility if they're prepared to say things that are just plain factually false,” Gingrich said.
Initial polls after Gingrich’s blowout victory in South Carolina showed Gingrich with a sizeable lead in Florida, but more recent surveys show Romney pulling away with the race. A Romney victory, paired with the former Massachusetts governor’s sizeable financial advantage and well-organized campaign infrastructure, would allow Romney to regain his long-held status as the undisputed frontrunner.
In an attempt to lower expectations ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the former House speaker said on Fox News Sunday that the Florida primary would be extremely close, but that he expected Romney to win. However, he also said on ABC’s This Week that Romney will not consolidate conservatives and that the race could go on for months.
"This is going on all the way to the convention,” Gingrich said on ABC’s This Week.
For his part, Romney shot back, accusing Gingrich of shilling for Freddie Mac, of "selling influence in Washington," and generally making excuses.
"He’s now finding excuses everywhere he can,” Romney said. “He’s on TV this morning going from station to station complaining about what he thinks were the reasons he thinks he’s had difficulty here in Florida. But you know, we’ve got a president who has a lot of excuses, and the excuses are over, it’s time to produce."
Gingrich's attacks on Sunday were also diverse, hitting Romney on many different fronts as Gingrich appeared on television and attended campaign events on the ground in Florida.
For example, Gingrich bashed Romney for raising sizeable amounts of money on Wall Street and specifically mentioned Goldman Sachs, a firm which is wildly unpopular with tea party voters because of the size of its government bailout during the 2008 financial collapse. He then accused Romney of using that money to “carpet bomb” him in Florida with dishonest ads.
“I give Governor Romney’s campaign due respect for the sheer volume of negativity that they use and the sheer amount of money they raise on Wall Street,” Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday.
Gingrich also lit into Romney’s background, labeling him a “Massachusetts liberal” and saying that Romney is trying to hide his record. “You have a governor of Massachusetts who was pro-abortion, he was pro-tax increase, he was pro-gun control,” Gingrich said. “He can’t even remember his own voting record.”
Gingrich has been widely panned for his performance in last week’s Florida debate, the last before voters there head to the polls, and acknowledged on Sunday that he had been “flat.” But he turned the concession into yet another attack on Romney, arguing that he didn’t know how to debate a rival who “stands there and just blatantly doesn’t tell the truth.”
Both candidates had surrogates out on the TV circuit as well. Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson took to the air in support of Gingrich. Arizona Sen. John McCain supported Romney.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and one of the GOP's rising stars, used an appearance on Fox News Sunday to signal his discomfort with Gingrich’s attacks on Romney for his time at Bain Capital.
“We need to defend the morality of the free enterprise system and upward mobility, Ryan said. “It does bother me when some candidates go after each other based on their success in their free enterprise system.”
Others attacked Romney, including Thompson, who called out the Romney campaign for sending surrogates to Gingrich rallies and said Romney’s campaign methods would fall short against President Obama in a general election standoff.
“All this is overkill. Bringing Members of Congress and putting them at opposition rallies is overboard,” Thompson said on NBC’s Meet the Press, adding, “Is this a way to win a general election?”