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Romney's Next Target: Gingrich's Temperament

Romney's Next Target: Gingrich's Temperament

By Scott Conroy - December 12, 2011


DES MOINES -- After testing out several lines of attack intended to thwart Newt Gingrich's surprising surge and apparent staying power atop the Republican field, the Romney campaign is moving next to portray the former House speaker as a reckless flamethrower who lacks the even-keeled disposition needed in the nation's highest office.

The strategy is fraught with risk in a GOP race that has rewarded candidates who echo the outspoken language of the Tea Party, but it is one that may be the last best chance for the former Massachusetts governor to define Gingrich on his own terms before voting begins next month.

Romney aides are still sorting through a thick opposition research file on Gingrich, a decades-long treasure trove of bombastic pronouncements and intra-party squabbles that call into question the candidate’s steadiness at the wheel.

But Romney’s strategists found their latest peg in Saturday’s debate when Gingrich stood by his description of the Palestinians as an “invented” people and added, “These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools.”

A spokesperson later clarified that Gingrich was referring to “the ones with rocket-propelled grenades” and not the entire Palestinian population, but the candidate did not make that distinction on Saturday night.

In addressing Gingrich’s comments, Romney said that while he agreed with most of what his opponent had said, he took issue with Gingrich’s eagerness to throw “incendiary words into a place which is a boiling pot.”

In language that seemed to imply Gingrich is a loose cannon, Romney added, “I will exercise sobriety, care, stability and make sure that in a setting like this, anything I say that can affect a place with rockets going in, with people dying, I don't do anything that would harm that process.”

In the spin room following the debate, Team Romney turned up the heat with some of the most eviscerating language that a campaign aide has leveled against a GOP foe in the primary fight thus far.

Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom called Gingrich’s remarks “tremendously destructive to a negotiated settlement” in the Middle East and said that he was “astounded that Newt Gingrich stood by his incendiary comments.”

“You heard Mitt Romney say, ‘I’m not a bomb-thrower.’ Newt Gingrich clearly is,” Fehrnstrom added. “He comes across as the Foghorn Leghorn of politics -- very loud, very brash, and very sure of himself, even when he’s wrong.”

Though he used less colorful language than Fehrnstrom did, senior Romney adviser Ron Kaufman appeared to preview future attacks on Gingrich’s temperament when he characterized the former speaker’s remarks as a “big mistake.”

“In the end, that matters when people take their measure of someone who might be president,” Kaufman said. “That’s a legitimate issue.”

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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