Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign may be going down in flames, but he’s determined to burn GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney as badly as he can before the crash. He could singe his future standing within his own party while he’s at it.
The former House speaker is projected to finish a dismal fourth or fifth in Tuesday night's New Hampshire GOP primary, following his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses a week ago. After such a lackluster performance against Romney, the first nonincumbent Republican to win back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich did not seem inclined to bow out of the race.
Instead, Gingrich indicated that he is heading to South Carolina with guns blazing against Romney, ahead of the Palmetto State’s Jan. 21 primary.
“We'll head to South Carolina tonight and kick off tomorrow morning a campaign for jobs and economic growth, a campaign for a balanced budget, a campaign for returning power to the states through the 10th amendment,” he said in a speech as the New Hampshire returns showed him battling for fourth place with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
A political action committee backing Gingrich plans to flood South Carolina airwaves with ads claiming that Romney, as head of the Bain Capital private equity firm, looted companies and laid off employees.
Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire Las Vegas casino owner, gave $5 million to the pro-Gingrich PAC to help air the ads. The committee, Winning Our Future, run by former Gingrich aides, will also release on Wednesday a 28-minute video, "When Mitt Romney Came to Town," attacking the former Massachusetts governor’s record at Bain. A trailer of the video intones: “A story of greed, playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney--more ruthless than Wall Street.”
Although at this point it’s all but impossible to imagine Gingrich’s path to the nomination, he seems determined to continue his efforts to derail Romney’s front-runner status.
“We're going to go all out to win in South Carolina. We think that's a key state for us,” Gingrich said on Tuesday night on CNN News. “I think as we go south in South Carolina, we're going to have a very different set of arguments, and I think he will have a fairly hard time defending his record when we get to South Carolina.”
But the new offensive has raised the hackles of some in Gingrich’s own party, who say they’re uneasy with attacks that appear to criticize capitalism itself. The biggest victim of the attacks, they contend, will likely be Gingrich himself.
“Newt is using the language of the Left in going after Romney on Bain Capital,” conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said. “That makes me uncomfortable.”
In a blog post titled “Kamikaze Newt,” Republican strategist John Feehery wrote, “Gingrich, the man who in many ways invented the modern warfare tactic of negative campaigning, is obviously furious that Mitt Romney carpet bombed him in Iowa. Knowing that he has no chance of winning the nomination, Gingrich is now doing everything he can to sink Romney’s ship.… Newt is mad, very mad, and when Newt gets mad, he gets stupid. And his efforts to bring down Romney on personal grounds are not only counterproductive for the party, they are counterproductive for Newt.”
Conservative thinker William Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard, called Gingrich’s attacks of Bain Capital “unfair, over the top, and, for that matter, all over the place.”
On Tuesday, Gingrich’s campaign also started airing an aggressive ad in South Carolina attacking Romney’s record on abortion rights.
“What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life?” a female narrator asks as a picture of an unhappy-looking Romney fills the screen and spooky music plays. “He governed pro-abortion.”
An aggressive Gingrich push in South Carolina could attract conservative voters away from Romney. But it could also backfire for Gingrich by splitting the conservative vote between Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, which could have the effect of increasing Romney’s lead, who is stronger among the party’s moderates and independents who lean Republican.
In his speech on Tuesday night to New Hampshire voters, Gingrich said, “I'm asking each of you not to slow down. In the next couple of days, make a list of every person you know in South Carolina and every person you know in Florida, because those are the next two great contests.… I believe we can reach out and we can create a majority that will shock the country and a majority that will begin to put us back in the right track. It is doable. It is a daunting challenge, but consider the alternatives.”
Gingrich has long enjoyed status as a respected party elder statesmen and ideas-generator. But his crash-and-burn campaign, while a threat to Romney, could also damage his own standing if he hopes to continue to influence GOP party politics and Washington policy debates.
Feehery, who was a top GOP leadership aide during Gingrich’s speakership, wrote, “It was Churchill who said that revenge was best served cold. Becoming a kamikaze pilot in a fit of pique is hardly the best way to get revenge or to restore your political reputation.”