With less than three weeks before the first voters have to make up their minds in the Republican presidential primary season, deposed front-runner Mitt Romney is sharpening his claws.
And he has his eyes firmly on Newt Gingrich, the man who now leads him in opinion polls by a double-digit margin.
Up until now, Romney has been able to claim the high road when it came to criticizing his opponents, but his campaign now clearly believes he has to go on the offensive. He attacked Gingrich as “zany” and an “unreliable conservative” in a series of high-profile interviews this week.
Now political watchers are waiting to see whether Romney will turn on Gingrich in a candidate debate tonight in Sioux City, Iowa, the state where caucus-goers will cast the first votes on Jan. 3.
“Zany is great in a campaign. It’s great on talk radio. It’s great in print, it makes for fun reading,” the former Massachusetts governor told The New York Times. “But in terms of a president, we need a leader, and a leader needs to be someone who can bring Americans together.”
And there were plenty more subtle digs at the one-time House speaker in the interview.
“He’s a great historian,” Romney said. “If we need a historian leading the country, I’m sure people would find that attractive. I actually think you need someone who actually understands the economy leading the country.”
Romney went even further with his full-frontal assault on Gingrich in The Washington Post on Wednesday. “He has been an extraordinarily unreliable leader in the conservative world — not 16 or 17 years ago but in the last two to three years,” he said.
“And even during the campaign, the number of times he has moved from one spot to another has been remarkable. I think he’s shown a level of unreliability as a conservative leader today.”
He also attacked Gingrich for sharing a couch with former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who now is House minority leader, to lay out a bipartisan policy on climate change and for blasting Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plans.
“When Republicans were fighting for cap and trade and needed a leader to stand up against cap and trade, he did an ad with Nancy Pelosi about global warming.
“When Republicans took one of the most courageous votes I’ve seen in at least a decade to call for the reform of Medicare under the Paul Ryan plan, he goes public and says this is a ‘right-wing social engineering’ plan. Even today he called it ‘suicide.’ ”
And the fabulously wealthy Romney — his own disclosure documents estimated his fortune at $264 million — even tried to turn Gingrich’s relatively modest $20 million fortune against his main rival.
“Newt Gingrich has wealth from having worked in government," Romney told CBS News. "He's a wealthy man, a very wealthy man. If you have a half-a-million-dollar purchase from Tiffany's, you're not a middle-class American."
And on Fox News, Romney went after Gingrich for saying that Romney should give back money he earned when leading the investment group Bain Capital when it involved shuttering companies with the loss of jobs.
“He doesn’t understand the economy if he doesn’t understand that sometimes businesses succeed and sometimes fail. To suggest there is something un-American, something wrong about investing in enterprise that ultimately doesn’t succeed bespeaks an extraordinary lack of understanding of how the economy works.
Then he turned on Gingrich for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the housing agency Freddie Mac, quoting Gingrich’s own words. “He said anyone who profited from Freddie Mac should give the money back. He profited by $1.6 million from an agency that helped bring down the entire economy. He ought to give it back.”
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