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Romney Gets Aggressive Against Gingrich

Romney Gets Aggressive Against Gingrich

By Scott Conroy - January 24, 2012


TAMPA, Fla. -- Two days after suffering a damaging defeat to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney took an assertive stance against the former House speaker on Monday night in the latest Republican debate.

Romney wasted little time before laying into Gingrich on an array of potential vulnerabilities in advance of the Jan. 31 Florida primary, including a challenge to Gingrich’s conservative bona fides on the environment, his condemnation (for which he later apologized) of Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan as “right-wing social engineering,” and his consulting work on behalf of troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Romney also disparaged Gingrich’s leadership skills, painting him as unsteady at the wheel and a potential liability for Republicans in November were he to win the GOP nomination.

“The speaker was given the opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994, and at the end of four years, he resigned in disgrace,” Romney said.

Though Gingrich did not appear frazzled at any point during the debate, Romney’s transition to a more antagonistic mode against him marked a stark contrast from the past two weeks when the former speaker who appeared to have Romney on his heels time and again.

Shortly before the debate began, Gingrich’s former consulting group released one of the contracts the former congressman had with Freddie Mac, giving Romney the opportunity to seize upon a volatile issue in a state with a particularly severe mortgage crisis.

“I don’t think we can possibly retake the White House if the person who’s leading our party is the person who was working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac,” Romney said. “Freddie Mac was paying Speaker Gingrich $1.6 million at the same time Freddie Mac was costing the people of Florida millions upon millions of dollars.”

Pressed by moderator Brian Williams on why he had launched such a negative barrage on Gingrich after vowing to keep his focus on President Obama, Romney said that he had learned his lesson after South Carolina and would not again allow his opponent to attack him “without returning fire.”

In response to the attacks on his work at Freddie Mac, Gingrich reasserted that his role there was based largely on his “knowledge of history, including the history of Washington.”

That answer did not satisfy Romney.

“You can call it whatever you like,” he said. “I call it influence peddling. It is not right. It is not right. You have a conflict.”

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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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