Given his pledge not to attack his rival Republicans, Newt Gingrich has found a novel way of drawing a contrast between himself and Mitt Romney.
“I’m not interested in distinguishing myself from Romney,” Gingrich told reporters after a speech to the Polk County Republican Party in Johnston on Thursday night. “I’m happy to be who I am. I think that distinguishes me from Romney.”
That seemed a subtle dig at Romney, whose main vulnerability among conservatives is his reputation for lacking a “core” and switching positions when convenient. But when asked if that's what he meant, Gingrich immediately backtracked and said it wasn’t. “I just said it’s not my job to be in the distinguishing business, except for Barack Obama.”
When another reporter asked if he would ‘turn the other cheek” if Romney attacked him in upcoming debates, Gingrich, all smiles to the cluster of cameras in the back of the room, said “It depends on what you mean. If he puts his hand on my shoulder, that might be different.
The brief press conference capped Gingrich’s short sweep through Iowa, a period that he said left him both “encouraged” and disoriented by all the support and attention he had begun to receive. Yet he also said he felt it was appropriate that he was keynoting Iowa state dinners, because he was no longer the “underdog.”
At that dinner, held in a convention center in Johnston, Gingrich sought to add more emotional lift into his stump speech.
“I am asking you to embark with me on a voyage of invention and discovery,” he said, “to be as bold and as brave as the Wright brothers.”
Gingrich began his speech with remarks in which he predicted an economic recovery “literally” the night Republicans would send Barack Obama home, and then announced, “I begin as Lincoln did.” He argued that, like Lincoln, all his ideas came out of the Declaration of Independence. He added, “If with your help I become president of the United States I will dedicate eight years to making those words real.”
The high concepts of his speech contrasted somewhat with the introductions before he took the stage. First, Simon Conway a British-born local Iowa radio host (“I am not a British American!”) delivered remarks that painted a dark picture of living in a Socialist country, by which he meant Britain. He then called the Democrats in power in Washington “dirt bags.” Dave Funk, the Polk County Republican Co-chair followed him on stage and warned that the United States would turn into Cuba in “60 or 70 years” unless Republicans reclaimed power. He then introduced Gingrich, describing him as a uniter who has also “worked hard” to make changes in his “own personal life.”
After the speech, Gingrich stood in the bright lights of nearly a dozen television cameras, both local and national, and commented on his place in the race.
“This," he said, "is the right stage to start saying to people, this is what a Gingrich presidency would look like."