Newt Gingrich is very upset that Mitt Romney continues to attack him in ads and speeches. It’s not hard to see why: It appears to be working. Gingrich’s momentary lead last month has faded and Rick Santorum has taken his place as the guy who isn’t Romney.
But the Gingrich campaign professes not to be concerned about the effect these attacks may have on the candidate’s own political future. Instead, Gingrich is worried about the dire threat negative campaigning poses to democracy itself. In an open letter to newspaper editors and publishers, written on Newt 2012 letterhead, two longtime Gingrich allies, former GOP Representatives Bob Walker and J.C. Watts, urge newspapers to “censure and thwart a way of politics that left unchallenged could corrupt our electoral process and democratic system for a generation.” The rest of the letter goes on to detail the many false claims Gingrich says Romney has made about him.
This is a strange document. Not only because of its stilted, Downton Abbey grandiosity—”We wish to make clear that although the signers of this letter are members of Newt Gingrich’s leadership team our immediate concern is not to seek your endorsement of his candidacy for the presidency, however much we might recommend and hope for such a result”—but because it depends on the readers’ willingness to accept Gingrich as a blameless victim of modern attack politics rather than one of its architects.
Gingrich first gained prominence in the mid-1990s as a backbench congressman who lambasted fellow members of the House in after-hours speeches to an empty chamber, when his colleagues weren’t around to rebut his sometimes inflammatory remarks. This continues to be his signature. Gingrich got the best laugh of the night at last week’s Presidential debate for describing himself as “cheerful,” which was funny because everyone knows no one in American politics is quicker with a barbed remark or withering insult. It was the super-PAC supporting Gingrich that launched one of the most memorable attack ads of this campaign season, against Romney: the 30-minute-long “When Mitt Romney Came to Town.”
Gingrich, whose attacks on the “elite” media helped fuel his rise in the polls, now seek them out for a sympathetic ear. Last fall, he pledged to “repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama.” In the letter, the media are no longer the enemy, but his potential ally—in getting Republicans to fight each other.
“We ask that you use the mighty voice of America’s newspapers,” write Walker and Watts, “to warn voters about Governor Romney’s attempt to use money and mendacity to secure the Republican nomination.”