As the GOP debate progressed, the decorum on the stage was not matched behind the scenes. Mitt Romney’s press team launched three press release attacks on rival Gov. Rick Perry. Romney’s was the only shop sending out press releases during the debate. His first hit slammed Perry for saying that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme that shouldn’t exist. That PR quoted the Daily Beast, Politico and well-known Texas political journalist Paul Burka (who tends to lean to the left) in its assault on Perry. Romney’s second release hit Perry for having written a letter to Hillary Clinton during the HillaryCare debate — a curious choice of targets, given Romney’s record on health care when he was governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s final press release during the debate hit Perry on his record on spending as governor of Texas. Two of the Romney releases featured this graphic, which slams Perry for being a “career politician.”
Romney’s hitting Perry, to the exclusion of all other GOP presidential candidates, exposes the reality that he came into tonight’s debate worried at having lost his frontrunner status to the Texas governor. He wisely stayed away from punching down at any of the trailing candidates, but it’s worth wondering whether this strategy may prove to be a bit too aggressive.
Update: While the Romney press shop was cranking out press releases, a Romney adviser was busy emailing Ben Smith at the Politico to declare that Perry had “lost” because he said that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.
Romney adviser Stuart Stevens emails:
He has lost. No federal candidate has ever won on the Perry program to kill Social Security. Never has. never will.
One, why is this even controversial? It has been known since at least the 1980s that Social Security was on a collision course with the Baby Boom generation, at which point we will have too many retirees taking out of the system what younger Americans are putting in. And two, why is Romney’s shop peddling its attacks on Perry to the Politico? Romney circa 2008 was great at outreach to conservative blogs. Romney circa 2011 is stiffarming conservative blogs and using the liberal Politico to slam fellow Republicans. That’s not a healthy shift in my opinion. Romney is essentially trying to use one of the GOP’s ideological enemies to win the GOP nomination.