Newt Gingrich said he wanted to play nice. Now he’s getting ready for nasty.
Gingrich on Tuesday branded Mitt Romney a “liar” and said he’s preparing to go on the attack after seeing his Republican presidential campaign wither in Iowa under a barrage of negative advertising from political action committees that support the former Massachusetts governor.
“This is a man whose staff created the PAC. His millionaire friends fund the PAC. He pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC. It’s baloney. He’s not telling the American people the truth,” Gingrich said on the CBS Early Show, ahead of Tuesday night’s Iowa caucuses.
“I’d rather stick at this level of pure policy,” Gingrich said in a separate interview with Fox News, “but if the governor and his paid negative ads are determined to engage in negativity, I’m going to tell the truth.”
Gingrich, who led Republican presidential polls in Iowa before Christmas, has been the target of nearly $3 million in negative advertising that he blamed for a sharp drop in his support in the Hawkeye State.
The bulk of the ads were produced and paid for by Restore Our Future, a so-called “super PAC” that can raise unlimited funds for the purpose of campaigning for or against political candidates.
The organization is run by several former senior aides to Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008, who are not currently tied to his 2012 campaign.
The ads allege that Gingrich “supported taxpayer funding of some abortions,” highlight a $300,00 fine he paid for ethics violations as Speaker of the House of Representatives and say he has “too much baggage” to be the Republican nominee.
Romney has refused to ask Restore Our Future to stop airing the ads, saying it is illegal for campaigns to co-ordinate with independent political action committees. He also accused Gingrich of being too thin-skinned.
“This is politics, and if you can’t stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until the Obama’s Hell’s Kitchen turns up the heat,” he told an interviewer, referring to the upcoming general election against President Barack Obama.
Referring to Romney during a weekend campaign stop in Iowa, Gingrich said that “somebody who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president.”
When asked Tuesday by a CBS interviewer if he was calling Romney a liar, Gingrich gave a one-word response. “Yes.”
The former House Speaker had risen in both national and Iowa polls after strong presidential debate performances in which he often refused opportunities to directly criticize his GOP rivals.
In recent days, Gingrich said he felt “Romney-boated,” a reference to the negative “swift boat” ads that damaged Democrat John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Gingrich earned a reputation during his years in Congress for bare-knuckled campaign tactics, but he told reporters Tuesday he didn’t consider it “negative” to criticize Romney on factual grounds.
“It can’t be seen as a negative campaign to factually describe somebody’s record.”
The ‘old Newt’ is now likely to re-emerge as candidates move from Iowa to New Hampshire ahead of the Granite State’s Jan. 10 Republican primary.
Two all-candidates debates are planned for the days leading up to the New Hampshire voting. Gingrich said voters can expect to see him take a more aggressive posture against Romney. He cast Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate” who wants Republicans to now believe “he’s magically a conservative” politician.
He attacked Romney for not supporting Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, backing a Democrat, Paul Tsongas, for president in 1992 and “running to the left of Teddy Kennedy” in a Massachusetts Senate race.
“I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven, consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points,” he said.
Gingrich is unlikely to be the only candidate turning up the heat on Romney in a bid to cut into his support in New Hampshire and elsewhere. Several polls show Romney leading the GOP field by a wide margin, with more than 40 per cent support.
Texas governor Rick Perry, who is already looking to South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary, said southern Republican voters “are going to pick the true, authentic conservative, not a conservative of convenience that Mitt Romney is.”
On Tuesday, Romney brushed aside Gingrich’s complaints.
“I know the Speaker’s angry. I don’t know why,” he said.