But Romney also acknowledged that he has not always been in step with conservatives and said that he was “wrong” not to sign Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America when he was running for a Senate seat in Massachusetts.
Romney’s effort to portray Gingrich as unreliably conservative signals a new and sharper strategy to blunt the former speaker’s momentum and to raise doubts about him in the eyes of voters who may be examining him closely for the first time in the campaign.
The former Massachusetts governor once was seen as at least a nominal front-runner in the Republican race but now finds himself trailing Gingrich in a number of states with early contests, as well as nationally.
Defending himself against charges that his own conservative credentials are suspect, Romney turned the question in Gingrich’s direction and said that it is the former House speaker who has strayed repeatedly from embracing conservative doctrine in recent years.
“He has been an extraordinarily unreliable leader in the conservative world — not 16 or 17 years ago but in the last two to three years,” Romney said. “And even during the campaign, the number of times he has moved from one spot to another has been remarkable. I think he’s shown a level of unreliability as a conservative leader today.”
Romney repeatedly cited what Gingrich has said about the Medicare reform proposal offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. Earlier this year Gingrich dismissed it as “right-wing social engineering,” and in an interview released Tuesday he called the plan political “suicide,” given its limited public support.
Romney also opened a new line of attack by personally criticizing Gingrich for having made a television commercial in 2008 with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then the House speaker and now the minority leader, promoting a campaign against global warming.
“Let’s look at the record,” he said. “When Republicans were fighting for cap and trade and needed a leader to stand up against cap and trade, he did an ad with Nancy Pelosi about global warming. When Republicans took one of the most courageous votes I’ve seen in at least a decade to call for the reform of Medicare under the Paul Ryan plan, he goes public and says this is a ‘right-wing social engineering’ plan. Even today he called it ‘suicide.’ ”
Romney’s campaign plans to escalate the attack on Gingrich over his work with Pelosi on climate issues with a video that will be released Wednesday, a campaign official said.