Behind the Ad: Newt Gingrich hits "Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney" over abortion
(Another installment in our new "Behind the Ad" series.)
Who: Newt Gingrich attacks Mitt Romney
Where: South Carolina.
What's going on: Well, he said it was coming, an all-out offensive against Romney in South Carolina, a last-ditch effort to tear down the frontrunner and likely nominee and to resurrect his campaign.
Assuming it really does materialize, a lot of it will be about Bain Capital, where Romney set about making millions destroying jobs and ruining lives, but of course that leaves open the charge -- a huge problem in a hyper-capitalist party like the GOP, where the slightest bad word about capitalism amounts to indefensible heresy -- that Gingrich is anti-capitalist. (What he's really doing is advocating an ethical capitalism inimical to the unregulated capitalism that Romney exploited and is defending now, but Republicans like their plutocrats to be self-aggrandizing looters with no regard for the consequences.).
In South Carolina, though, the opening against Romney is really on the social conservative front, and Newt and others, like Santorum, will no doubt focus a great deal of their energy in the coming days on Romney's fairly progressive (at least by Republican standards) past, including on key wedge issues like abortion. Hence this ad, which accuses Romney of having "governed pro-abortion" in Massachusetts:
Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney: He can't be trusted.
That's a powerful message that hasn't gotten much of an airing so far in the Republican race, what with the various non- and anti-Romneys so often turning their fire on each other instead of on Romney. It may not be enough to knock Romney off his perch, what with the conservative opposition deeply divided and with neither Gingrich nor Santorum possessing the broad appeal or clear electability that one would need to mount a serious challenge at this point in the campaign, particularly with most of the party elites in Romney's corner, but if pressed enough it could resonate strongly with the many Republicans uncomfortable with the thought of Romney as their party's nominee, particularly in a state like South Carolina.
If nothing else, though, it highlights one of Romney's glaring weaknesses, one that Democrats will no doubt seek to exploit come general election time. If he embraces or even acknowledtges his progressive past, he picks up independents but loses vital conservative support. But if he continues to run to the right, as he will have to do as long as this conservative challenge continues, he risks further alienating the center and losing whatever lingering credibility he may have with non-Republicans. One thing he'll try to do is avoid having to talk about issues like abortion altogether, focusing instead on jobs and the economy (while lying about his ugly record at Bain) and smearing Obama as an anti-American socialst Europhile (while playing up American exceptionalism in a shameless appeal to knee-jerk, delusional patriotism), but there's not much he can do as long as these conservative efforts to expose him as a faux conservative continue.