Mitt Romney with supporter John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and supporter, accused Newt Gingrich of "irrational behavior."
Mitt Romney with supporter John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and supporter, accused Newt Gingrich of "irrational behavior." Jim Cole/AP
Mitt Romney's campaign, trying to yank the soaring Newt Gingrich candidacy back to earth, had two pillars of the Republican establishment describe the former House speaker as a political disaster in the making for the GOP should he get the nomination.
John Sununu, the former Republican governor of New Hampshire, and Jim Talent, former U.S. senator from Missouri, suggested Thursday that Gingrich had repeatedly disqualified himself over his career from being considered as presidential material.
But they singled out Gingrich's infamous criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to reform Medicare as the epitome of why the former speaker shouldn't be the Republican nominee.
And just for good measure Sununu, who served as President George H.W. Bush's White House chief of staff raised the notion that Gingrich might be, ahem, too unstable for the presidency.
Sununu and Talent said everything Republicans need to know about why their man Romney should be the nominee and not Gingrich could be seen by how both men reacted to the Ryan plan.
The plan put forward by Ryan of Wisconsin who chairs the House Budget Committee, would have eventually converted Medicare from a system of government provided health insurance for older Americans to a privately provided insurance with recipients receiving government subsidies to pay their premiums.
While Romney endorsed the plan and offered his own ideas, Gingrich initially called it "right wing social engineering," then tried fast-talking his way out of a tight spot after fellow Republicans exploded in anger.
Sununu was clearly still angry:
SUNUNU: "For Newt Gingrich, in an effort at self-aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that had no other purpose than to try and make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan, is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one can imagine happening.
"He gave the liberals and the Democrats the ammunition they needed to moot, if you will, at least for the time being, Paul Ryan's presentation. Mitt Romney supports what Paul Ryan did, he endorsed what Paul Ryan did. Mitt Romney had his own package of entitlement reform which Paul Ryan has praised. They both mesh together, both based on understanding entitlement reform. And Gingrich's undercutting of Paul Ryan makes it clear Newt Gingrich is more concerned about Newt Gingrich than he is about conservative principles."
Both men said that if Gingrich is the nominee, the presidential race will become a choice between the often controversial Gingrich, with his reputation for being undisciplined, and the very disciplined Obama. They seemed to have few doubts that Obama would do very well head-to-head against Gingrich.
Meanwhile Talent, who served in the House while Gingrich was speaker, recalled some of the unpleasantness of living in Newtworld. He acknowledged that the team under Gingrich had accomplishments like balancing the federal budget and welfare reform (of course, President Bill Clinton had a role in that too.) But Gingrich's well known unpredictability was an issue.
"Yes we got some things done, but we also reached a conclusion that we could not go on as our leader. We're in a situation where we would get up every morning and you'd have to see the newspaper what the speaker said that day that you'd have to clean up in your district. It's exactly why we did what we did."
What they did was unsuccessfully try to oust Gingrich in a 1987 coup because he was increasingly seen as a political liability to his party. Gingrich survived that but resigned the following year after Republicans lost a number of seats in the midterm elections.
And in case there was any doubt, when Romney's surrogates were asked if they could see Gingrich as the ultimate civilian authority over the U.S. military, Sununu used the moment to raise doubts about the former speaker's stability.
SUNUNU: "Having sat in the White House with a president that was completely reliable, understood completely the depth of analysis that's required to make the kind of hard decisions that a president has to make, I strongly reinforce my endorsement of Mitt Romney.
"The off-the-cuff comment for example that Gingrich throws out on occasion is a reflection of the off-the-cuff thinking that in thinking that he uses. What he did to Paul Ryan is a perfect example of the kind of irrational behavior you do not want in a commander-in-chief."
Talent and Sununu promised that Thursday's effort was just the start of effort by the Romney campaign and his supporters to raise doubts about Gingrich by contrasting his career and statements with Romney's.
One problem for Romney and his supporters, however, is that there appears to be a solid block with the Republican part of the electorate that may be almost as opposed to having Romney as the nominee as they are to having Obama in the White House. Many Republicans just don't appear to like Romney.
The other problem is that this is the first presidential election cycle for Republicans during the Tea Party era. Before the Tea Party, the Republican establishment had more power to dictate outcomes.
But it seems like it's going to be a tough trick for establishment figures like Sununu and Talent to sway anti-establishment voters looking to shake things up.