The Romney Campaign’s Newt-Ain’t-Reagan Assault

The GOP 2012 race passed the point of disgusting weeks ago, certainly, but in the last couple of days we’ve certainly reached a new low.

The latest foray into the depths is the Romney campaign’s effort to assail Newt Gingrich’s history as a deputy of Ronald Reagan’s and a standard-bearer of Reagan’s ideological legacy. This was led off by a piece written by Elliott Abrams, who has served in several positions involving defense and foreign policy under Republican presidents from Reagan to George W. Bush, which alleged that Gingrich’s positioning of himself as a key part of Reagan’s team was a fraud…

Here at home, we faced vicious criticism from leading Democrats — Ted Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, Jim Wright, Tip O’Neill, and many more — who used every trick in the book to stop Reagan by denying authorities and funds to these efforts. On whom did we rely up on Capitol Hill? There were many stalwarts: Henry Hyde, elected in 1974; Dick Cheney, elected in 1978, the same year as Gingrich; Dan Burton and Connie Mack, elected in 1982; and Tom DeLay, elected in 1984, were among the leaders.

But not Newt Gingrich. He voted with the caucus, but his words should be remembered, for at the height of the bitter struggle with the Democratic leadership Gingrich chose to attack . . . Reagan.

The best examples come from a famous floor statement Gingrich made on March 21, 1986. This was right in the middle of the fight over funding for the Nicaraguan contras; the money had been cut off by Congress in 1985, though Reagan got $100 million for this cause in 1986. Here is Gingrich: “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. . . . President Reagan is clearly failing.” Why? This was due partly to “his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail”; partly to CIA, State, and Defense, which “have no strategies to defeat the empire.” But of course “the burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan.” Our efforts against the Communists in the Third World were “pathetically incompetent,” so those anti-Communist members of Congress who questioned the $100 million Reagan sought for the Nicaraguan “contra” rebels “are fundamentally right.” Such was Gingrich’s faith in President Reagan that in 1985, he called Reagan’s meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

Abrams’ piece is long, it’s devastating stuff and having read it one could easily come to the conclusion that Gingrich is a complete poser when it comes to his relationship with Reagan.

And it’s hardly the only attack Newt is fending off this week. POLITICO notes that he’s got the proverbial kitchen sink hurtling toward his head…

Newt Gingrich better hope voters who lapped up his delicious hits on the “elite media” and liberals don’t read the Drudge Report this morning.

Or the National Review. Or the American Spectator. Or Ann Coulter.

If they do, Gingrich comes off looking like a dangerous, anti-Reagan, Clintonian fraud.

It’s as if the conservative media over the past 24 hours decided Gingrich is for real, and they need to come clean about the man they really know before it’s too late. This is just a sampling of what’s hitting Newt:

• The overnight Drudge Report banner: “Insider: Gingrich repeatedly Insulted Reagan.” The headline linked to a devastating takedown by Elliott Abrams in the National Review, who wrote, among other things, that Gingrich had a long record of criticizing and undermining Reagan’s most transformative policies.

• Drudge also linked prominently to the American Spectator’s R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.’s similarly harsh takedown of Gingrich over character: “William Jefferson Gingrich.” In it, Tyrrell writes: “Newt and Bill are 1960s generation narcissists, and they share the same problems: waywardness and deviancy. Newt, like Bill, has a proclivity for girl hopping… His public record is already besmeared with tawdry divorces, and there are private encounters with the fair sex that doubtless will come out.”

Drudge runs hundreds of links to stories of all stripes about candidates, but has been seen by Republicans as favorable to Romney in the past.

The POLITICO piece also has one of the more laughable snowflakes in this blizzard. Namely, that Bob Dole has now declared war on Gingrich.

“It is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices.

“Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself…

“[Mr. Gingrich] was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.”

Bob Dole. Because he knows how to win national races.

Erick Erickson does the best job handling this last bit

Bob Dole, you will remember from George Stephanoupolos’s memoir of his time in Clinton’s White House, totally cut the legs out from under Newt Gingrich and House Republicans during the government shut down. According to the Democrats, they were within twenty-four hours of caving to the House Republicans’ demands, but Bob Dole surprised them all by caving first.

Dole went on to lose to Bill Clinton and still hates Newt Gingrich for it because Gingrich was the face used to attack Dole — a man who would have been the hero in the fight had Dole not caved.

And we’re supposed to hate Newt Gingrich because Bob Dole caved to the Democrats twenty-four hours before they were going to cave to Gingrich?

But on the rest – namely that Gingrich isn’t a Reagan conservative and he’s falsely riding Reagan’s tattered coattails, there might be some validity to the criticism. Nothing about Newt can be praised without some qualification; that’s just the way he is.

But one wonders why it is that Romney seeks to “dirty up” Gingrich’s Reagan connection. It’s not like Romney is any particular Reagan conservative…

…and Gingrich does lay claim to a great many endorsements from Reaganite folks. For starters, there’s this video clip from 1995 which has surfaced in which Nancy Reagan paints a line from her husband to Gingrich…

Reagan’s widow isn’t the only member of that family painting the line. His son Michael, who has endorsed Gingrich, has blasted Romney’s camp for the current effort to separate the candidate from the Reagan legacy…

“I am deeply disturbed that supporters of Mitt Romney are claiming that Newt Gingrich is not a true Reaganite and are even claiming that Newt was a strong critic of my father.

“Recently I endorsed Newt Gingrich for president because I believe that Newt is the only Republican candidate who has both consistently backed the conservative policies that my father championed and the only Republican that will continue to implement his vision.

“It surprises me that Mitt Romney and his supporters would raise this issue — when Mitt by his own admission voted for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale who opposed my father, and later supported liberal Democrat Paul Tsongas for president.

“As governor of Massachusetts, Romney’s achievement was the most socialistic healthcare plan in the nation up until that time.

“Say what you want about Newt Gingrich but when he was Speaker of the House he surrounded himself with Reagan conservatives and implemented a Ronald Reagan program of low taxes and restrained federal spending.

“Newt’s conservative program created a huge economic boom and balanced the budget for the first time in more than a generation.”

“I would take Newt Gingrich’s record any day over Mitt Romney’s.”

And at the American Spectator, the same publication in which Tyrrell’s aforementioned nuke appeared this week, Jeffrey Lord – who was Reagan’s White House political director – directly refuted the Newt-Ain’t-Reagan narrative

Newt Gingrich was part of the Reagan Revolution’s Murderers’ Row. And anybody who was in Washington in the day, much less in the Reagan White House or the 1984 Reagan re-election campaign (and I would make that particular cut of three), knew it….

…. time after time after time in the Reagan years, a number of those times which I had the opportunity to see up close as a young Reagan staffer charged in my duties with being the White House liaison to Gingrich and Kemp’s Conservative Opportunity Society, Newt Gingrich was out there again and again and again for Ronald Reagan and conservative principles. In his own memoirs, The Politics of Diplomacy, James Baker noted of his days as Reagan White House Chief of Staff that he always “worked closely” with the people Baker described as “congressional leaders.” And who were those leaders? Baker runs off a string of names of the older leaders of both House and Senate in the formal positions of power — plus one. That’s right: young Newt Gingrich….

…..But whatever happens, quite unlike the picture Romney is trying to paint of his prime opponent in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich was very much present and accounted for on the Reagan team. To borrow from Reagan’s farewell address to the nation and the men and women who served him, Newt Gingrich wasn’t just marking time. He made a difference. He helped make that City on a Shining Hill stronger. He helped make the City freer.

Quite to the contrary of the Romney message, Newt Gingrich was in fact one of Reagan’s Young Lieutenants.

One of the best.

In fact, there is a sizable list of Reagan deputies who have come out in Newt’s favor beyond just Michael Reagan and Jeffrey Lord…

Elliott’s endorsement is quite poignant, and refutes the Romney narrative forcefully…

Newt Gingrich was an early foot-soldier for Ronald Reagan. He was inspired by Reagan’s charisma, convictions and leadership. He supported Reagan in 1976 and witnessed the attacks by the Ford campaign to tar Ronald Reagan, the conservative, as unstable and dangerous. Sound familiar? Newt was also among the small band of conservatives, led by Jack Kemp in the late 1970s, who saw the tremendous potential for growth in Art Laffer’s supply-side economics. When President Reagan embraced the Kemp-Roth tax cut, Newt Gingrich was on the frontlines working to pass the legislation.

Sure, one could make the argument that Gingrich is overstating his role as a Reagan floor leader in the House. And the Gingrich camp isn’t pristine in its own attacks on Romney.

But what makes this week’s assault so distasteful is that Newt Gingrich is not Mitt Romney’s problem.

It’s not without merit to say that Gingrich’s baggage and his negatives are such that it would be an unconscionable risk to run him against Barack Obama this fall. Gingrich’s supporters are well aware of his flaws. Assaulting his record isn’t going to change their judgement that he’s worth the risk.

And assaulting Gingrich doesn’t change the reason he’s a threat to Romney.

The reason Romney, who carries none of the baggage Newt does, isn’t able to put him away is that Romney has yet to offer something to the constitutional/fiscal conservatives that would make him an acceptable alternative to the risky former House speaker.

Rather than sending Newt’s old nemeses out onto the transom to trash him, why not appeal to conservatives on policy grounds? Why not attempt to make yourself worthy of their support?

Romney could embrace Newt’s flat tax proposals. Romney could offer a comprehensive domestic energy program. Romney could put out a plan to reorganize and shrink the federal government’s role in American life.

He’s done none of these things. He offers a 59-point platform which doesn’t contain anything destructive but basically amounts to nibbling at the edges.

Gingrich offers big ideas, and Romney offers political hackery.

Once again, we see a strategy from Romney in which he thinks he can stand by the river and watch the bodies of his opponents float by, festooned with gaping wounds from bites his attack dogs took out of them.

And maybe he’s right. Maybe Gingrich will succumb to these and the parade of future attacks he’ll see from the Romney camp.

But will that make for ultimate success? Again, Erickson…

The fix is in for Romney, which just means when he is crushed by Barack Obama a lot of Republicans will have a lot of explaining to do. Newt may not be able to win. But Romney sure as hell can’t beat Obama either if Newt can’t win. The problem remains — Gingrich supporters intrinsically know this to be so and are happy to die fighting. Romney’s supporters are still deluding themselves.



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