LITTLETON, NH — After being battered in the Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich pledged to go about “defining Romney out of the mainstream of the Republican party.” In New Hampshire on Thursday, he began to demonstrate just what that meant.
At a senior center in Plymouth, Gingrich’s debuted an extended riff bashing “Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney” for straying from conservative principles as governor.
Among the ills Gingrich cited: Romney “appointed liberal judges to appease Democrats” and “put Planned Parenthood in Romneycare by name.”
“I don’t believe a Massachusetts moderate is in a very good position to debate Barack Obama,” Gingrich said, warning that it “blurs” the contrast between the two parties.
Gingrich said he envisioned conservatives eventually uniting behind one candidate who would stop Romney in his tracks, noting that Romney’s failure to score a large victory in Iowa was instructive.
“Governor Romney got 25% and conservatives got 75%,” he said. Looking ahead to South Carolina and Florida, Newt added that “If he wins at 25% this will be the weakest frontrunner in history.”
For some Gingrich supporters frustrated by the campaign’s inability to battle a big-money wave of attack ads from independent super PACs supporting Romney, Newt’s combative tone was encouraging. Linda Dupere, a retiree volunteering for Gingrich, said she came to his town hall in Littleton to “tell him to take the gloves off and come out swinging.”
“You can’t be Mr. Nice Guy all the time,” she said. “But be honest, use the facts.”
But they also represent dangerous territory for Gingrich. He made a big deal up until recently about running a positive campaign and avoided attacking his rivals and even threatened to condemn any Super PAC that ran negative ads on his behalf. Now one of his former aides, Rick Tyler, is launching an organization to do exactly that, saying that he takes Gingrich’s public remarks as a green light to attack Romney.
James Walker, a local real estate appraiser who has yet to decide who he’s voting for, went up to Gingrich in Littleton to caution him against going too far in going after Romney.
“I told him to keep it positive,” he said. “He came off pretty whiny after Iowa, but I think he can be positive and still counter with the facts.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.