Curbing Attacks Hard for Gingrich

December 29, 2011

By DOUGLAS BELKIN, The Wall Street Journal

This was the week Newt Gingrich wanted to highlight his economic plan, portray himself as the true supply-sider in the Republican presidential primary and take the high road when it came to the wave of attack ads that have damaged his standing in the Iowa polls.

But as Nice Newt barnstorms the state this week—”I am not going to go negative, period,” Mr. Gingrich said Monday—Angry Newt keeps showing up.

That same day, he said he wouldn’t vote for Mr. Paul if the Texas congressman won the nomination. On Tuesday, a Gingrich-supporting campaign group launched a mailing calling another rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, “the second most dangerous man in America.”

Later that morning, he implied that Mr. Paul’s laissez-faire attitude toward Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would do nothing less than endanger the lives of Mr. Gingrich’s family.

“Do you feel comfortable in terms of my two grandchildren…with the idea that the commander in chief would think that it was irrelevant to have an Iranian nuclear weapon,” Mr. Gingrich said at a campaign stop at a mall in Mason City. “I regard an Iranian nuclear weapon as very dangerous.”

Though Mr. Gingrich has continued to cite what GOP members call Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment—thou shalt not attack another Republican—he has been unable to stick to the playbook and play the part of the avuncular elder statesman. One reason: Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul have spent millions of dollars on TV ads battering him as a Washington insider and a hypocrite. Mr. Gingrich doesn’t have the money to respond in kind.

“If Mitt Romney and his cohorts want to put somewhere between $5 million and a gazillion dollars in misleading attack ads, then we’re going to do something that is completely intolerable to the Romney campaign, were going to respond with the truth,” said R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman.

After a month that saw his Iowa poll numbers rise from the basement to the top of the pack, the attacks have taken their toll. A CNN poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Gingrich losing half his support in Iowa and falling to fourth place. Mr. Gingrich could keep his inner Newt bottled up no longer, a style familiar from his swashbuckling attack mode when he was speaker of the House.

“I don’t want to be invidious about Gov. Romney,” he said Tuesday, before launching an attack on Mr. Romney’s political record in Massachusetts.

Mr. Gingrich’s history as a rhetorical bomb thrower has left some voters marveling at his efforts to stay positive.

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