From the first Morning Jolt of 2012…
Newt Gingrich says he feels as though he’s been “Romney-boated.”
The former House speaker today continued his condemnation of attack ads directed at him by an independent group backing GOP rival Mitt Romney. Gingrich played off the term “swift boating,” which was coined in the 2004 presidential race about the negative ad campaign directed at Democratic nominee John Kerry.
An analysis released last week showed 45% of all the political ads in Iowa were negative spots directed at Gingrich, who once was leading surveys here and nationally.
“Romney-boating” has to involve a yacht somehow, right?
Fair or not, it’s not like Mitt Romney did anything that the Obama campaign wouldn’t do in a general-election contest. Er, let me revise and extend that: If you can’t handle what Romney’s PACs are sending your way over the airwaves, how will you rebut attack ads coming from the Obama campaign AND the Democratic National Committee AND the unions AND the Soros-funded “independent” groups and the eager recitation of the criticism from their mainstream media allies?
Where’s Johnny Cochran when you need him? “If your Iowa campaign’s no hit, you must blame Mitt”?
Also, I thought “Swift-boating” was a term Democrats used to describe an attack that they insist was unfair, but we on the right knew that the reason the Swift Boat Vet ads worked was because they jarringly and effectively rebutted the Kerry campaign narrative — that 200 or so of the men who served with him couldn’t stand him and found his service to be anything but heroic.
As our old friend Byron York summarized:
The Swift Boat veterans in that year were the officers who served alongside John Kerry in Vietnam. They had first-hand knowledge of Kerry’s service, and they had a story to tell about Kerry’s behavior in Vietnam and his later antiwar activities at home. Based on 35 year-old memories, some of their claims were accurate, and some weren’t. But the point is, these men were in a specific position to know about a specific time in Kerry’s life. It was entirely proper that their criticisms be aired.
Later, some of the Swift Boat veterans criticized Kerry on other issues, but who cared? They had no more standing to speak about Kerry’s position on, say, Social Security, than anyone else. But as far as Vietnam was concerned — they were there.
CNN contributor and Bush 2004 campaign strategist Alex Castellanos offered a stinging, and probably way-too-early eulogy for the Gingrich campaign, declaring that the failure to go negative on opponents will be fatal to his chances at the nomination:
As any political professional can tell you, there is a peculiar species of candidate, which, like the lemming, is driven to vindicate its existence with its death. This candidate is above politics as others practice it. His inflated self-regard does not allow him to play by rules common to mortal political contenders.
Pure and noble, at least in his own eyes, he cannot lower himself to engage in vulgar attacks that would disqualify his GOP competitors. St. Newt, The Martyr, has lost two dozen points in three weeks as he has been gang-tackled by Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Perry. In response, Gingrich has complained, not counterattacked. Soon, the biting winds of Iowa will teach the former college professor his mistake.
When a candidate loses because voters don’t know him, he can regroup. If he crumbles because they do know him, his campaign has nothing to say. After his collapse in Iowa, Newt Gingrich will have been revealed as a candidate with too much baggage to board the flight to New Hampshire, much less South Carolina or warmer battlegrounds. Gingrich will suffer the cruelest possible fate: irrelevance. His tombstone will read, “They liked him least, who knew him best.”
Greg Giroux reports, “Newt, asked what’s his biggest weakness, replies, ‘Probably that I’m too reasonable and I should have responded to the negative ads two weeks earlier.’”
In these circumstances, it’s natural to hit back, and I wouldn’t give Gingrich a hard time about discarding his previous only-positive-campaigning pledges. But I notice Newt telegraphs his coming response by telling reporters what his upcoming ads will focus upon. The New York Times reports:
As the campaign moves to New Hampshire and South Carolina, Mr. Gingrich said he would direct ads that point up Mr. Romney’s relatively moderate record as governor of Massachusetts — not attacks, he insisted, but a look at the record.
“I think you can do very calm, very pleasant ads,’’ he said. “The nature of the Republican Party is such that a calm, pleasant ad that says he was for tax-paid abortions, I’m against it” would have an impact.
“Romney called himself a moderate as governor,’’ he said. But, he added, Mr. Romney registered as a Democrat to vote for Paul Tsongas, a former senator from Massachusetts. “You don’t have to get into his Bain career or get into any other things that would get into negative advertising,” he said, referring to Bain Capital, the private equity firm Mr. Romney helped start.
It’s as good an attack on Romney as any, but why tell a bunch of reporters of what your upcoming attack will focus upon? It’s hard not to suspect that Gingrich’s urge to let everyone know what a brilliant tactician he is has prompted him to forego the element of surprise.