Mitt Romney opened an aggressive new phase of the Republican presidential campaign as he cruised into Florida on Sunday night — casting Newt Gingrich as an unethical politician whose temperament and unreliability led to his ouster as speaker of the House in the 1990s.
After a week in which he conceded his Iowa win to Rick Santorum after a recount and lost to Gingrich by double digits in South Carolina, Romney acknowledged that the Republican contest had become a three-man race. But he took a much tougher tone toward Gingrich – directly raising the ethics investigation that Gingrich faced in the 1990s and demanding that Gingrich provide an accounting for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“We’re not choosing a talk show host,” Romney said, alluding to his rival’s strong debate performances that helped shift momentum in his favor in South Carolina. “We’re choosing the person who should be leader of the free world.”
And that’s where he’s wrong. I don’t mean wrong in substance; he’s right about what the election is supposed to be about. But if the election was really about choosing who should be leader of the free world, Obama would never have been elected in the first place, and now Romney would be running third to a couple of other governors who had much better records than his. But they failed at the game show part of the campaign, the proverbial tail that’s wagging the dog of the presidential race and has been for nearly a year. Because of that, those better governors are either out or didn’t run at all, Mitt’s still in and he is sinking against a tough-talking Newt with no real executive experience and massive personal and ethical problems in his past. The pain from Bain went from desperate to useful refrain.
Face it, Ann Coulter and other Mitt partisans: Mitt’s problem is Mitt. He has failed to connect to give undecided Republicans a reason to vote for him. Not just against the others. He ran his campaign along two tracks: Destroy his rivals, and run out the clock. That strategy seemed poised to work until Gingrich struck a nerve, and now he’s all but bulletproof to the usual political charges, and the clock has been reset as the primary heads to Florida. Romney was unprepared for Campaign 101 — release your taxes to prove you’re clean and you’ll be transparent. And now he’s on defense despite probably having a clean record, while Newt is on the offensive despite all his troubles. Florida is now Newt’s to lose: Gingrich leads there by nine.