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Some Former Rivals Boost Romney as Others Hang Back

Some Former Rivals Boost Romney as Others Hang Back

By Scott Conroy - May 15, 2012


In a Republican nomination fight that featured more than a few acrimonious exchanges among the candidates, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich were often the most cutting in their criticism of Mitt Romney.

Even as she faded from the top tier of contenders, Bachmann was never shy about breaking Ronald Reagan's "11th Commandment" -- thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans -- as she relentlessly hammered her chief opponent over his conservative credentials.

Bachmann referred to the now-presumptive Republican nominee as a “chameleon” during a Florida speech and stated unequivocally in a December interview with ABC News her belief at the time that Romney “cannot beat Obama.”

For his part, Gingrich’s attacks on everything from Romney’s finances to his honesty often came across as personal and were always blunt. President Obama’s campaign wasted little time in memorializing them in a 90-second Web ad soon after the former House speaker formally threw his support behind Romney.

But now that Romney is the last GOP hopeful standing, Bachmann and Gingrich are each set to follow a long line of once-bitter primary foes who became active surrogates for the person who beat them.

Bachmann will speak on Romney’s behalf at the Minnesota Republican convention this week, according to a Romney campaign source, and Gingrich is set to hit the trail for Romney with public events and high-dollar fundraisers in his home state of Georgia and elsewhere.

Though the relationship between the Romney and Gingrich camps has long been poor to nonexistent, the former congressman’s press secretary, R.C. Hammond, used a Revolutionary-era metaphor to predict that his boss’s support for Romney would please the presumed nominee’s Boston-based staff.

“You’d think we would be as popular as the British were in Boston to the Commercial Street crew,” Hammond said. “However, if the campaign turns out to plan, we hope to be the GOP's version of General Lafayette.”

Gingrich’s campaign reported $4.3 million in debt in its March 31 report to the Federal Election Commission, and while Hammond has said that about $500,000 of that has since been paid off, the former speaker could certainly use Romney’s help with the rest.

But amid lingering fallout from those campaign spats and a residual sentiment that Gingrich overstayed his welcome in the race once he fell out of contention, the Romney team has not indicated it intends to retire Gingrich’s sizable debt.

In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Gingrich declined to take back his previous assertion that Romney had lied during the campaign, though he said he would trust the Republican “100 times” over President Obama.

As for the former rival who netted the second-most delegates, Rick Santorum raised doubts about his willingness to go all-in for the presumptive nominee by formally endorsing Romney via a late-night email to his own supporters rather than at a public event.

In the email, Santorum did praise Romney on a number of fronts, and a Romney campaign source tells RCP that plans are in the works for Santorum to keynote events on Romney’s behalf.

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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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