DUBUQUE, Iowa – Newt Gingrich, trying to reverse a slide in Iowa by positioning himself as the unabashedly positive alternative to his trash-talking rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, unleashed an unexpectedly harsh attack Tuesday against his chief rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Gingrich has been the target of an avalanche of negative advertising, robo-calls and brochures. He has often said in the last few days that he would take the high road. But his anger surfaced Tuesday when he was asked by Wolf Blitzer what he would like to say to Romney about the attacks.
“All I’d say is Mitt, if you want to run a negative campaign and you want to attack people, at least be man enough to own it.”
He called Romney a “moderate Massachusetts governor, who is in fact very timid” with proposals for the economy.
Paul’s record, said Gingrich, is one of “systemic avoidance of reality.”
Referring to reports about newsletters sent out under Paul’s name containing racist and anti-Semitic rants, Gingrich said Paul has “a long way to go to explain himself.”
Gingrich said he would not vote for Paul for president, and if it came down to a choice between Paul and President Barack Obama, he simply denied that Paul could ever be the Republican nominee.
Voters, said Gingrich, “will not accept somebody who thinks it’s irrelevant if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.”
“As a protest, he’s a reasonable candidate,” Gingrich said. “I don’t see how you can engage Ron Paul as the nominee.”
Just before Gingrich was interviewed by CNN, he was the keynote speaker at a weekly luncheon of the local Rotary Club here. A Rotarian asked Gingrich to draw a distinction between himself and Romney, who had mildly tweaked the former House speaker earlier in the day for failing to qualify for the Virginia primary ballot.
In a Facebook post, Gingrich’s campaign manager had compared the setback to that suffered by the United States when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. “Obviously, the Virginia setting was not the best hour of his campaign,” Romney said.
At the prompting of a Rotarian, Gingrich recalled former President Ronald Reagan’s famous admonition about Republicans not attacking fellow Republicans.
“I believe in Reagan’s 11th commandment,” Gingrich said. “I don’t want to be invidious about Gov. Romney, who is a very competent manager and a smart man.”
But in a conversation with reporters after his speech, foreshadowing his angry CNN interview, Gingrich was less diplomatic, calling Romney “a Massachusetts moderate (who) raised taxes, created a larger government, imposed greater costs on business. … And I think the difference in our records is clear, it’s also clear in our policy.”