Something he is pretty good at is attacking. Look at what he did to Perry, with that immigration attack he made against the Texas governor at that long-ago debate. He leveled Perry; found the perfect issue, phrased it well (that business about the $100,000 discount on tuition for children of undocumented parents), and drove it home. So maybe he can do that to Gingrich. But on what issue?
Theda The best charge against Gingrich is that he’s a flip-flopper, but Romney obviously can’t go there. He might go the adulterer route. Surely the increased role for Romney’s wife in the campaign is meant to imply that. But for Christian conservative voters it seems like you can have a past that includes practically anything. As long as you say you’ve now squared it with the Big Fella, they’ll give you a pass.
The best thing Romney has going for him is that Newt’s a bomb-thrower. This is the line some of Romney’s surrogates are putting out there—New Hampshire’s John Sununu, for example, calling Gingrich “self-aggrandizing” and “irrational.” Romney himself did this in the debate in the exchange about Gingrich’s comment about the Palestinians being an “invented” people, saying that in contrast to Gingrich he’d speak with “care and caution and stability and sobriety” (four adjectives!). But what if care and caution and stability and sobriety aren’t of much interest to GOP primary voters? The bomb-thrower charge may have limitations this electoral season.
I feel sorry for Romney every once in a great, great while. He’s like an Impressionist painter who strolled into the salons of Paris in 1905 thinking he was going to blow everyone away only to find that tastes have moved on and no one wants to buy his stuff. The Republican electorate is tired of boring and prudent respectability. The Republican establishment, presumably, is decidedly not tired of those things, especially since respectability often equates to electability. The establishment might yet save Romney. But how? What levers does it have?
It’s a sign of Romney’s desperation that he’s now using Ann Coulter’s voice in a radio ad, saying that she thinks he’s “the strongest candidate.” The sound bite is effective, I guess, if you’re affected by Ann Coulter. But it is also three weeks old. A lot has changed in those three weeks—most saliently, that Republican voters now clearly disagree with Coulter. Romney’s no longer the default choice, and he has no obvious line of attack against the man who is. I’m not sure I’d bet a dollar on Romney now, let alone ten thousand of them.