Republican Slugfest

With the Iowa Caucuses little more than two weeks away the two Republican frontrunners are now in a slugfest. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged into the lead in several state polls, including Iowa, Florida and South Carolina, leaving Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney rattled.

Now Romney is sounding more desperate and flustered. In Saturday night's Republican debate Romney inexplicably offered to bet Texas Governor Rick Perry $10,000 that he was misrepresenting Romney's position on individual mandates, which are part of Romneycare. While that is a substantial amount of money for most Iowans, it is not for multimillionaire Mitt Romney. And it didn't play well in Des Moines.

On Monday Romney decided to come out swinging, but it sounded more like the pot calling the kettle black. Romney attacked Gingrich's work for Freddie Mac, the government sponsored mortgage company that has been lambasted by conservatives. Romney called on Gingrich to return the millions he made working for Freddie Mac after he left office. Romney told Fox News, "One of the things that I think that people recognize in Washington is that people go there to serve the people and then they stay there to serve themselves."

But Gingrich later responded to Romney harshly. "I love the way he and his consultants do these things," Gingrich said. "I would just say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, then I would be glad to listen to him and I'll bet you $10 dollars -- not $10,000 -- that he won't take the offer." Romney founded Bain Capital in 1984, an investment and consulting company. Romney is now worth more than $200 million.

Gingrich and Romney have many things in common. They are both very wealthy. In fact, Gingrich has bragged he regularly gets $60,000 to make a speech; the median family annual income in the United States is about $50,000. They have both supported health care mandates. Both supported the Wall Street bailouts, government subsidies for ethanol and agree that humans play a role in climate change. And, most noteworthy, both are serial flip-floppers on several issues.

But in Saturday's debate Governor Romney pointed to his lengthy career in the private sector as the reason he is the best qualified to turn the American economy around. Gingrich wasn't buying it, "The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994. It's a bit much. You'd have been a 17-year career politician by now if you'd won."

No doubt Gingrich was not amused by an earlier Romney political ad in which he claimed to be a man of "steadiness and constancy." In his narration Romney said, "I've been married to the same woman for 25 -- excuse me, I'll get in trouble -- for 42 years. I've been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years. And I left that to go off and help save the Olympics." This was clearly attack on Gingrich's personal life.

This is Romney's second attempt at the Republican presidential nomination; he first ran in 2008. Since he declared his candidacy last April he has devoted all of his energies to getting nominated. While has always been among the frontrunners, Romney has never been able to get more than 25% in Republican polls. The reason is simple: they just don't trust him.

Gingrich was written off a few weeks ago by most observers. He is intelligent and energetic, yet he is equally unpredictable and mercurial. And, despite all his flaws, he has now emerged as the darling of the right because they are willing to forgive his past transgressions. His debate performances have lifted him to the top and his supporters believe he is best able to take on President Barack Obama in a debate.

Two weeks is a long time in politics, especially given the intensity of this race. But an almost certain victory in the Iowa Caucuses and a strong showing in the New Hampshire Primary against frontrunner Romney will likely propel Gingrich to victories in the South Carolina and Florida primaries. But Romney will fight on.

The ultimate winner of the Republican nomination will have to unite a battered party in order to defeat President Barack Obama. And they will have to keep Congressman Ron Paul from declaring as a third party candidate, which is a real possibility.

President Ronald Reagan made famous his eleventh commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." He must be rolling over in his grave.