Negative ads work; whining about negative ads doesn't. Newt Gingrich is just wasting time by complaining about them. Who cares if Mitt Romney hasn't disavowed attack ads? The question is: Why haven't Newt and his friends launched their own?
Voters want a "positive" candidate, says Newt. No, they don't. Candidates whose supporters have the money to run ceaseless attack ads against their opponents do just fine with voters.
"And you now understand my entire strategy for the next two weeks," Gingrich said to the press this week. "The state of Iowa must choose between the negative and somebody who wants to be positive."
Iowans look ready to take up this dare and choose the negative. Ron Paul, who has no qualms about running negative ads, is thriving there.
This is no time for Newt to reinvent campaigning and bemoan the inevitable. If he has any chance of beating Romney, he will need to go negative too and fast. To the extent that Tea Partiers respond to Newt, they respond to his negativity -- those moments when he taps into his inner reactionary.
Newt once memorably described Bob Dole as the "tax collector for the welfare state." He needs to coin a similarly devastating description of Romney. That would be a much better use of his time than bleating about Romney's refusal to condemn attack ads from a Super Pac run by former staffers. That idle complaint from Newt has just allowed Romney to shift the focus from his thin skin (on display during the Bret Baier interview) to Newt's.
Were the field less wobbly, Romney's past as a liberal Republican from Massachusetts would have sunk him a long time ago. But Romney and his supporters have skillfully succeeded in making the race about Newt's disqualifying past as a scandal-tarnished insider and erratic leader. Gingrich had deftly pushed back against this line of attack in one of the debates -- noting that Romney's inability to beat Ted Kennedy explains his status as an outsider -- but not so well recently.
And so much of the talk in the last couple of weeks has been about how Gingrich's past makes him permanently untrustworthy. But if that is the case, why doesn't Romney's past as a RINO define him forever too? After all, both candidates , perhaps implausibly, say that they have changed. Why is only Romney's declaration of change accepted?
By not skewering Romney's past, Gingrich has allowed the focus to stay on his. Where are the attack ads reminding primary voters that Romney voted for Democrat Paul Tsongas, gave money to Planned Parenthood, supported homosexual scoutmasters, supported homosexual domestic partnerships, didn't want to "return to Reagan-Bush," supported Global Warming alarmism, and accepted the politically correct consensus on any number of issues? Gingrich and his allies have plenty of material to mine for ads.
Typical of Gingrich's haplessness this week were the attacks on him for lashing out at judicial tyrants. Hit from all sides, he is seen as at once too liberal and too extreme. At a time when Romney should be explaining himself to conservative voters, Gingrich is doing all the explaining.
So his proposal for curbing judicial activists became the focal point of frenzy while Romney's record of actually appointing them continued to go largely unnoticed. Republicans will have no grounds to complain if Romney becomes President and appoints Souters to the court. That's what he did in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe and others have noted that Romney's recent rhetoric on judicial activism bears no relationship to his record. He nominated plenty of judicial activists to the courts.
Why isn't Gingrich talking about that? That is of far more interest to conservative primary voters than a boring debate about Super PACs.
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