Newt Gingrich has long since moved on from the pledge he made in Iowa to run a positive campaign and let the chips fall where they may. A thorough thumping in that state's caucuses and a disappointing finish in the New Hampshire primary can do that to a candidate. The amount of anti-Mitt Romney venom that oozed out during a campaign stop in Florida Thursday morning, though, was nevertheless a bit shocking.
The former House Speaker unloaded on his chief rival during an address to a gathering of Tea Party supporters in Mount Dora, Fla. He called Romney's attacks on his record "the desperate last stand of the old order," and accused the former Massachusetts governor of having directly profited from the housing crisis in the Sunshine State. He derisively called Romney a "money-making independent" during the era of Ronald Reagan -- not that there's anything wrong with making money, Gingrich added -- and once again went after his diverse and lucrative financial portfolio.
"We are not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs who have foreclosed on Florida and is himself a stock holder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together and understand what this is all about," Gingrich declared in a preamble to a decidedly angry stump speech.
"In 1992, he gave money to Democrats for Congress," he added at another point. "He voted in the Democratic primary for Paul Tsongas, the most liberal candidate. This is the man who stood up the other night and questioned my credentials as a Reaganite? This is the kind of gall they have, to think we are so stupid and we are so timid that we will let someone who voted for Paul Tsongas -– in 1994 he is running for the U.S. Senate to the left of Teddy Kennedy. Do you know how hard it is to run to the left of Teddy Kennedy? And he says, 'You know, I don’t want to go back to the Reagan-Bush years, I was an independent then.'"
"He won't tell you that now, because he is counting on us not having YouTube," Gingrich said. "That's how much he thinks we are stupid. And we are not stupid. The message we should give Mitt Romney is: we aren't that stupid and you aren't that clever."
Given his own lengthy list of problematic YouTube moments, Gingrich's speech on Thursday seemed to reflect the sniping and pettiness that have largely defined the campaign since it moved from South Carolina to Florida. Romney and an allied super PAC have hit Gingrich on everything from his diminished importance during the Reagan years to his quasi-lobbying for Freddie Mac. When the first wave of criticism came during Monday night's debate in Tampa, the former speaker was caught flat-footed. His campaign now seems to have studied up. Gingrich, on Thursday, even referenced a Think Progress report showing Romney and his wife "own or owned millions of dollars worth of a Goldman Sachs investment fund invested heavily in mortgage-backed obligations."
Romney's campaign hasn't addressed the Goldman investment yet. It has stressed that the former governor's holdings in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were set up through a blind trust, though the Boston Globe has reported that that's not actually true. As for his time as an independent during the Reagan-Bush era, that part of Romney's history is well-documented and wouldn’t have come up had Romney not accused Gingrich of being a marginal figure back then.
There remains, it should be noted, five more days until Floridians actually vote, and there is another GOP debate scheduled for Thursday evening. Things could get even more venomous.