There will be a harder-punching Mitt Romney in tonight’s nationally televised debate in Florida, one who comes out swinging against Newt Gingrich and spells out where he disagrees with his Republican rival in terms of issues and background.
That’s what the former Massachusetts governor told HUMAN EVENTS this morning, with hours to go before his latest forum with his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination and four days before the Florida primary Jan. 31.
Emphasizing that “I prefer to aim my fire at President Obama and his record,” Romney nonetheless said he felt “it is important to point out our distinctions” – meaning those between himself and Gingrich; the two are considered the leading contenders in the four-candidate GOP race.
“Speaker Gingrich made enormous errors in judgment as a leader of our party,” said Romney, who spoke to us between campaign stops in the Sunshine State. “He was reprimanded by his colleagues and this led to his resignation [as speaker and from Congress in 1998].”
Romney also signaled he would step up heat on Gingrich’s background as a Washington “insider” and one who made money from the home mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“There’s no question Newt Gingrich made his living as a Washington insider and influence-peddler,” he told us. “For his work, Freddie Mac paid money into his Center for Health Care Transformation [think tank]. No one knows what he delivered or what it had to do with either health care or history [a reference to Gingrich’s public insistence he was paid by Freddie Mac for work as an historian]. But people are anxious to find out.”
When it comes to his chief rival, immigration is another area that Romney is sure to focus on tonight and in the coming days. Referring to a recent forum sponsored by the television network Univision, the Bay State man said that at the forum, “Newt Gingrich pandered to a community that wants amnesty, recalling how he voted for it in Congress and believes that one should get amnesty after 20-to-25 years [in the U.S.]. I honor legal immigration but feel we should secure our borders first and end illegal immigration. Permitting amnesty only encourages illegal immigration to continue.”
When we cited Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina primary night remark to HUMAN EVENTS that he would be happy to go one-on-one with Romney if Romney will do it, Romney scoffed. As he put it, “the schedule of debates will be determined by the commission [that organizes the debates] and by my campaign, not by Newt Gingrich. He’s not the center of attention.”
Romney noted that Ronald Reagan, in one of the debates before the 1980 primary in New Hampshire, “famously insisted that all candidates be accepted in the debate.”
When we reminded him that Reagan nonetheless went on to go one-on-one with opponent George H.W. Bush after the other contenders left the stage (and Reagan declared “I’m paying for this microphone”), Romney said he would be happy to go one-on-one with Gingrich “if we are the last two [candidates] standing. Until then, we should let the process follow its course and all candidates should be included.”
On Wednesday, the Financial Times ran an op-ed by Lloyd Green, opposition research counsel for George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign, which urged Romney to deploy the same strategy against Gingrich that the Bush ’88 campaign did against Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis, whom Bush beat decisively.
“For starters,” wrote Green, “hammer home the stories that make Newt Gingrich look overreaching and odd. In other words, the things that kept him out of the money in Iowa and New Hampshire should be told and retold.”
Romney said he had not read Green FT’s piece, but it was clear from his fighting tone with me that he is going to adopt it tonight and at least for the next few days.