NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Mitt Romney's campaign will use the next days and weeks to paint a portrait of Newt Gingrich as hyper-ambitious, reckless, erratic, and consumed by a lust for power and a fantastical sense of his own place in history: As, that is, the Republican caricature of President Barack Obama.
To do this, they reached back to 2008 and employed the same attacks that Republican John McCain hurled at candidate Obama—that he was arrogant, elitist, and obsessed with historic stature.
“At this moment in time, when we have a president who obviously has very grandiose thoughts of himself, who wants to be a historical figure, who didn’t focus on the hard work of getting the country back to work... it would be a terrible mistake to nominate somebody else who’s going to go down that same path," said Romney's chief media advisor, Stuart Stevens, after Thursday's CNN debate here.
The intense new focus on Gingrich, which Romney's aides made clear Thursday night, comes as the former House Speaker's emotional and well-received debate performance here made the most of a shift in the polling and the momentum of the contest for the Republican presidential nomination.
It’s a line of attack they’ve been using for the past several days, but the Romney camp sharpened it Thursday as they tried to turn Gingrich’s lofty rhetoric and unflappable self-confidence into a political disadvantage. During the debate, the Romney campaign sent reporters an e-mail titled “I have grandiose thoughts,” which contained a greatest hits compilation of Gingrich’s most self-important quotes, beginning with his misuse of the derogatory "grandiose" to mean simply "grand."
Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, a Romney surrogate, mocked Gingrich for “extolling his virtues as the only savior of the world.”
“Newt Gingrich has a compulsion to put himself in the same class as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, it’s almost Napoleonic in the way he expresses himself,” Sununu said. “And I think that’s just ridiculous for anybody who wants to be president of the United States.”
Romney supporters after the debate refused to engage questions of Gingrich’s marital fidelity. “Not gonna touch that," Stevens said.”
But the caricature of a delusional, self-important power-seeker is not incompatible with that of an adulterer. And while Romney's aides don’t want to look like they’re hitting Gingrich below the belt, they also don’t want to let him get away with casting himself as an idealistic public servant.
And so to the portrait of a man consumed, ultimately, by narcissism, Stevens added his own condescending twist.
“There’s not a lot of us who spend our time debating whether really we’re Margaret Thatcher or Winston Churchill or whomever,” he said. “And I think there’s something sort of endearing about it, but is it a quality you want in a nominee?”
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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