GUY RAZ, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is entering a more combative phase. Time was when the Republican contenders largely agreed on who their opponent was. Here's Newt Gingrich, at a debate in September.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED DEBATE)
NEWT GINGRICH: All of my friends up here are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated. And all of us are committed as a team, whoever the nominee is, we are all for defeating Barack Obama.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
BLOCK: Well, that team seems to have broken up. As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, the contenders are now proving ready, willing and able to fight each other.
INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain all took a turn at being the major conservative challenger to Mitt Romney. Now, it's Newt Gingrich who's at or near the top of most of the polls. So yesterday, Texas congressman Ron Paul welcomed him to the big time with this video, where a slew of mostly unidentified speakers questioned whether Gingrich stands for anything but his wallet.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other way.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He's flipped and flopped based on who's paying him.
JAFFE: Gingrich has said he won't hit back at his rivals. Drawing contrasts, however, seems to be OK. This was Gingrich a couple of days ago, on a South Carolina radio station.
GINGRICH: I don't claim to be the perfect candidate. I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney, and a lot more electable than anybody else.
JAFFE: More than any of the candidates, Romney has remained above the fray, saving his criticisms for President Obama as if he were already the GOP nominee. But most Republican voters remain unconvinced. Romney's level of support has generally been stuck in the high teens to low 20s. And now, he feels Gingrich breathing down his neck - or is it the other way around? So here's Romney attacking Gingrich on Fox.
MITT ROMNEY: He's a lifelong politician. I think you have to have the credibility of understanding how the economy works, and I do. And that's one reason I'm in this race.
JAFFE: Romney also slammed Gingrich for saying that undocumented workers who had been in this country for a long time, put down roots, and raised a family shouldn't automatically be deported.
ROMNEY: If he's going to do what I believe he said he was going to do for those people - who would be allowed to stay permanently and become citizens - that would be providing for them a form of amnesty.
JAFFE: Which Romney knows is an anathema to most conservative voters.
ED ROGERS: It's time for him to show some teeth.
JAFFE: Republican political analyst Ed Rogers says Romney has got to protect his position as a leading candidate.
ROGERS: And it's time for him to make sure that nobody builds up a head of steam where he really gets behind and has to become so harshly negative that it reflects poorly on him.
JAFFE: Actually, says Rogers, 'tis the season for all the candidates to show some teeth.
ROGERS: We're only five weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. And so it's getting to be time to get undecideds to make a decision. It's getting to be time to build up yourself, and diminish your opponents.
JAFFE: Texas Governor Rick Perry was blunt about his intention to do just that. On "Fox & Friends" yesterday, he said Americans are looking for an outsider to clean up Washington, and that Gingrich and Romney are insiders.
GOV. RICK PERRY: And we're going to be talking about that. And we're going to be talking about it in harsh and strong terms over the course of the next four to five weeks, as we get ready for those New Hampshire caucuses.
JAFFE: Actually, it's the New Hampshire primary. Iowa is the state with the caucuses. But no doubt one of Perry's rivals will be glad to point out his mistake. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.