Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate in a presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, June 13, 2011 (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File).
On the night of Newt Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina primary, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt predicted on MSNBC that the GOP establishment would “panic” if Gingrich won Florida. They didn’t wait that long. As soon as Gingrich’s bounce from South Carolina briefly brought him to the top of the polls in Florida, the Romney campaign and the Republican establishment amplified their attacks on Gingrich.
The Romney campaign holds daily press calls criticizing Gingrich. In addition to the lower-profile surrogates such as Senator Jim Talent (R-MO) and former Representative Susan Molinari (R-NY), they’ve started dispatching some heavy hitters. Last week Senator John McCain held a call complaining that Gingrich was a profligate pork-barrel spender.
Many in the conservative media, in collaboration with current and former government officials, have been digging into Gingrich’s congressional tenure. National Review, which endorsed Romney in 2008 and has already editorialized against Gingrich’s candidacy in this cycle, has spearheaded the campaign. Last week it ran another editorial against Gingrich. NR’s editors did not bother pretending that their concerns about Gingrich revolve around some phony issue like pork-barrel spending, a fixation for conservative purists who seem not to care that the military budget they refuse to cut is roughly 100 times as expensive. They cut right to the core of what bothers establishment Republicans about Gingrich: the fact that he is an incredibly weak candidate in the general election. “Amid all the tumult of the last 18 years there has been this constant: Gingrich has never been popular,” they wrote. “Polls have never shown more than 43 percent of the public viewing him favorably at any point in his career.”
Meanwhile NR’s Jim Geraghty exhumed a story of Gingrich’s strong-arm tactics from his tenure as Speaker. According to Geraghty, Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) memoir of his tenure in the House of Representatives under Gingrich “paints a picture of Gingrich as a raging egomaniac, wildly hypocritical and quick to toss Class of 1994 principles.”
National Review’s most significant blow to Gingrich last week surely came in the form of an article by Elliot Abrams. Abrams is the epitome of a neoconservative Republican insider: son-in-law to Commentary’s Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, Abrams served in President Reagan’s State Department and on George W. Bush’s National Security Council. Abrams recalls with tremendous bitterness that during the 1980s, Gingrich was frequently critical of Reagan’s foreign policy. And in typical Gingrich fashion, he used wildly over-heated rhetoric to make his argument. Abrams depicts Gingrich as a hostile critic of Reagan’s policies that supposedly slayed the Soviet Union. This cuts directly into the central argument of Gingrich’s candidacy, that he is the “Reagan conservative” who worked with Reagan and will replicate Reagan’s successes.