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Romney Surrogates Sununu, Talent Attack Gingrich

Romney Surrogates Sununu, Talent Attack Gingrich

By Erin McPike - December 8, 2011


Mitt Romney's campaign is finally taking a more aggressive approach in the Republican presidential primary, and its attack dogs are after Newt Gingrich.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent questioned Gingrich's leadership skills during the 1990s, when he served as speaker of the House.

"He is not a reliable and trustworthy conservative because he is not a reliable and trustworthy leader," Talent said, adding that Gingrich has said "outrageous things that came from nowhere."

Talent, who many campaign insiders say would be tapped as chief of staff in a Romney administration, said he was making his comments reluctantly but doing so because the stakes of the election are so high. The former senator was a congressman in the 1990s, serving with Gingrich.

It's fitting that Talent was on the call with Sununu (pictured above, with Romney), as the latter served as chief of staff during George H.W. Bush's administration. The two former politicians scolded Gingrich most harshly for his summer commentary criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare, and they kept returning to the point.

They complained that Ryan was blindsided when Gingrich appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" earlier this year and panned Ryan’s proposal as "right-wing social engineering." And they said that Romney supports and endorsed Ryan’s plan.

That's not entirely the case, however. Romney remained mum on Ryan's plan for a while, and even while later complimenting it, he said that his own plan was different. Nevertheless, the duo said Gingrich's comments, despite being made months ago, were part of "a pattern of anti-principled leadership" and that the former speaker is continuing to undermine Ryan, a young star in the conservative movement and the chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The call almost seemed like a sales pitch for an endorsement of Romney from Ryan. The congressman has yet to make an endorsement in the race and has been picky in the past.

Romney's campaign issued a series of fact sheets this morning about the differences between Ryan’s and Romney’s Medicare proposals, noting that the candidate would have signed the former's plan into law if he were president. They also issued a document citing Gingrich's comments on the topic, headlined, "With friends like Newt, who needs the left?"

For his part, Gingrich phoned Ryan after “Meet the Press” taped, and the two have kept in touch since about what's happening in Congress.

Nevertheless, Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said that with the primaries rapidly approaching, the campaign will continue to host these phone calls to contrast Gingrich's record with Romney's. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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