Newt Gingrich in Ottumwa, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011.
Newt Gingrich in Ottumwa, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Charlie Riedel/AP
Newt Gingrich is being reminded that staying on the high road has a substantial downside during a presidential campaign.
Trying to recast himself as a sunny optimist, just like his hero Ronald Reagan (and to leave behind his reputation as a master of political hardball), the former speaker has vowed to run a positive campaign, eschewing negative campaign ads against his GOP rivals for their party's presidential nomination.
He's even tried to keep his comments about fellow Republicans neutral despite a few lapses, like when he accused Romney of bankrupting companies and laying off workers as CEO of a private equity firm.
But his rivals haven't sworn off the negative ads, especially against Gingrich. Which has left Gingrich in the vulnerable position of complaining about the attacks, especially from the super PAC allies of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
That, in turn, has led to Romney to use Gingrich's complaints against him by suggesting that maybe he's a little too wimpy to take on President Obama in the general election.
In Keene, NH Wednesday, Romney said during a Fox News interview:
"I'm sure I could go out and say, 'Please, don't do anything negative.' But this is politics. And if you can't stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until the Obama's Hell's Kitchen turns up the heat."
Romney's implication, of course, is that he has just the right stuff to take on Obama on, especially since some estimate the president could have at his disposal the better part of a billion dollars for his re-election.
One obvious problem for Gingrich is that by swearing off negative ads, at least to the extent of not initiating attacks, he has unilaterally disarmed, giving up one of the most effective weapons in the arsenal of campaign tactics.
If he winds up doing poorly in Iowa and seeing his lead in South Carolina, a must-win state for him, narrow substantially, he won't be able to go negative, or allow his super PAC friends to do so, without then being accused of hypocrisy.