* Romney to bombard Gingrich with scorched earth attacks: The big news this morning is that the Romney campaign — stung by Newt Gingrich’s big South Carolina win — is prepared to unleash a white-hot series of assaults on the (again) surging challenger. One of these, apparently, will be a continued demand that Gingrich release the ethics probe that got him bounced from Congress — even though the probe has already been released.
On Friday, in an apparent effort to distract from calls that he release his tax returns, Romney first tested out this line, insisting: “I wouldn’t release things piecemeal. Do it all at once.”
But as CNN reported, the report Romney wants Gingrich to “release” is already on the Web sites of the Library of Congress and the House Ethics Committee.
Now the New York Times reports that Romney will escalate its attacks on Gingrich over this:
Mr. Romney’s campaign also indicated that it would continue pressing Mr. Gingrich to share what it maintains are hundreds if not thousands of pages of details relating to the ethics committee investigation, when Mr. Gingrich was accused of inappropriately claiming tax-exempt status for a class he taught at Kennesaw State University in Georgia; the panel alleged that the course he ran had partisan, political aims of pushing his economic platform.
It’s still hard to understand what the Romney camp means by this. The report is already up on line right here. The Times account treats this as a he-said-she-said argument, noting that Gingrich “said” the report is online already. But it is online already. Why is this a matter for debate?
* GOP establishment gnashes teeth over Gingrich: The Wall Street Journal editorial page is always worth reading for a glimpse into what the GOP establishment (to the degree that it exists) is thinking, and this on the state of the GOP primary is instructive:
As for the GOP establishment, such as it still is, Mr. Gingrich’s re-emergence is likely to cause a panic attack. They don’t believe he is electable. Our advice would be to relax and let the voters decide. If Mr. Romney can’t marshal the wit and nerve to defeat the speaker, then he isn’t likely to defeat Mr. Obama.
If GOP office-holders had a better candidate, they should have rallied behind one to get into the race, and they still could if the primary contest drags on without a clear winner. In any case the record of elected GOP politicians in picking nominees is hardly inspiring. Rank-and-file voters are likely to have a clearer sense of what the country needs. On to Florida.
* Is establishment support a liability for Romney? Relatedly, Philip Rucker and Amy Gardner report from Florida that despite Romney’s efforts to paint Gingrich as a Washington insider, some Republicans seem to be concluding that Romney is the candidate of Washington, based on his support from GOP establishment figures.
The interesting dynamic here is that Gingrich may be able to turn Romney’s “inevitability” strategy into a liability, by arguing that his, Gingrich’s, candidacy is a referendum on whether “Washington” will be permitted to tell rank and file Republicans who they should support.
* Obama faces delicate balancing act with State of the Union: Scott Wilson previews Obama’s State of the Union speech. It will build on the populist, Congress-bashing framework of his recent Kansas address, but it will also grapple with the delicate challenge of how to describe the state of the economy.
As always, the challenge is: How do you make the case that things could have been far worse — even if that’s totally true — when people are still suffering?
* Are we on the road to recovery? Relatedly, as Paul Krugman notes this morning in a column apportioning criticism and praise for the president, it’s actually true that things would be far worse without Obama’s policies, and things will get worse again if the GOP gains power .
* Romney concedes that economy is getting better: I’m with Steve Benen on this: It’s important that Romney has now been forced to acknowledge that the economy is getting better, and I hope media figures press him on how this squares with his ongoing — based on a bogus “net” job loss number — that Obama is a job destroyer.
* Also worth watching:With the Supreme Court decision looming, what will Obama say in his speech about the health reform law?
* Romney ramps up another attack line on Gingrich: Romney unleashes his next scorched earth attack, an assault on Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker, one that suggests team Romney has resigned itself to a long and brutal war of attrition:
“He was a leader for four years as speaker of the House. And at the end of four years it was proven that he was a failed leader and he had to resign in disgrace.”
I wonder, though, whether this history isn’t already familiar to many GOP voters, and whether they see Gingrich as someone who has already atoned for his many failings, and can be forgiven for them.
* Will Gingrich Super PAC gear up in Florida? One big question hanging over the Florida primary is whether billionaire Sheldon Adelson will hand over another few million to the pro-Ginrich Super PAC, which was instrumental in Gingrich’s surprise victory in South Carolina.
Rick Tyler, the head of the pro-Newt Winning Our Future, says he hopes to raise $10 million for the Florida contest alone, which could have a major impact, though he concedes he’s not yet there.
* Gingrich forces will continue to attack Romney’s business background: The pro-Newt Super PAC is set to go up in Florida with a new ad attacking Romney over Bain’s takeover of a company accused of Medicare fraud.
Apparently the Gingrich forces are not fazed by Romney’s claim that anyone raising questions about Bain is putting free enterprise on trial. Also: This is the same attack line that AFSCME is running in a new ad in Florida, and the overlapping attacks again indicate how much the surprise GOP attacks on Romney’s Bain background have scrambled the traditional political calculus.
* Newt-mentum in Florida? Nate Silver’s poll-crunching now puts Gingrich’s chances of winning Florida at 66 percent, with Romney’s at 32 percent.
* Romney’s tax problems won’t go away: The labor-backed Americans United for Change is out with a new Web video mocking Romney’s offshoring with the tagline: “Believe in America — hide your money in the Carribbean.”
While some experts have said there’s no reason to doubt the campaign’s claim that he isn’t offshoring to gain a tax advantage, a careful account in the Wall Street Journal suggested ways the assertion may be misleading.
Either way, Romney’s announcement yesterday that he’ll release only the last two years of returns only ensures that such attacks will continue from Obama’s allies, and the drip-drip-drip nature of the story may only exacerbate the damage.
* And why can’t Romney talk about his money? E.J. Dionne makes a smart big-picture point about Romney’s money as political liability:
Conservatives may denounce class warfare, yet by shrewdly combining the politics of class with the politics of culture, Newt Gingrich won his first election in 14 years, humbled Mitt Romney and upended the Republican Party.
He also exposed profound frailties in Romney as a candidate, throwing him badly off-balance on questions related to his personal wealth, business career and income taxes. Unless Romney finds a comfortable and genuine way of talking about his money, he will present President Obama’s team a weakness that they’ll exploit mercilessly. The country is thinking more skeptically about wealth and privilege in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Romney has not adjusted.
Major Garrett reports that the Romney team is exploring new ways for him to address this topic with more “passion.” Time will tell.