This is Newt Gingrich being “relentlessly positive”:
“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, that I would be glad to then listen to him, and I’ll bet you $10—not 10,000—that he won’t take the offer.”
That was Gingrich speaking to a cluster of reporters in New Hampshire on Monday. Here he is just two days earlier—the very same day he made his pledge to run a “relentlessly positive campaign”—addressing that very same Mitt Romney on a debate stage in Iowa:
“The only reason you didn’t become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994.”
We pause for a moment to contemplate what Newt Gingrich might say if he ever decided to go negative.
But he’d never do that, would he? This is the New Newt! The Grandfatherly Newt! Forget who he used to be all those years ago—Knife-Fight Newt, Nuclear Newt. New Newt has sworn off taking the low road.
“I am instructing all members of my campaign staff,” says a brand-new statement from the made-over candidate himself, “and respectfully urge anyone acting as a surrogate for our campaign to avoid initiating attacks on other Republican candidates. It is my hope that my Republican opponents will join me in this commitment.”
See? He’s going straight! He’s not going to attack any of his fellow Republicans!
Actually, that’s not quite what he said. What he said was he would “avoid initiating attacks.” Meaning he won’t throw the first punch. But if someone is bold enough or foolish enough or desperate enough to throw one at him…
And just in case you think we’re reading too much into that tiny little verbal distinction, just in case you’ve forgotten how good this guy is with his word choices, here’s his spokesman, R.C. Hammond, after Newt had peeled the bark off Mitt’s career in the private sector: “We respond to attacks. We do not initiate them.”
Well OK then.
Pop Quiz: Do you think the Gingrich campaign will find it difficult to locate something that qualifies as an incoming attack and permits them to launch an all-out retaliatory “response”?
Which isn’t to say that they wouldn’t prefer to shut down the incoming volleys altogether. Newt is the sudden frontrunner, after all—what better time to push for a truce than when you’re ahead?
And there’s that other factor, too, of course: Newt Gingrich’s public career and personal life—his smiles, his frowns, his ups, his downs—make such inviting targets. If they can somehow convince his fellow candidates to go easy on him, all the better, yes?
Or if they can even make it seem like his fellow candidates have agreed to go easy on him. Mitt Romney, for instance.
Say Mitt Romney were to tell Politico, for instance, that while he might have to get tough on his rivals, he won’t go too far.
Say he told Politico this: “I’m not going to say outrageous things that can be used to hang them down the road if they happen to become the nominee.”
Now, if you were Newt Gingrich, maybe you could refer to Mitt Romney’s statement, but with a few minor alterations. Maybe you could claim that Romney “said it’s very important that we not weaken any of the people who might defeat Barack Obama, and he would rather lose than engage in outrageous attacks against one of his competitors, and I want to thank him for taking that position.”
How gracious of Newt to thank Mitt for saying all that!
But did Romney say, as he scrambles for the nomination that once seemed his for the taking, that he wouldn’t even try to “weaken” any of his rivals? I must have missed it. But that’s the way Newt heard it—or so he says. How convenient for him!
“Relentlessly positive”? Well, he’s got the “relentlessly” right.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.