After reading news accounts Thursday morning about Romney’s advisers gaming out strategies to attack him, Gingrich told aides he wants his campaign, and himself, to focus exclusively on his ideas and what he sees as President Obama’s failings.
Asked in an interview with the Post on Wednesday evening if he would return fire against Romney and Ron Paul, who ran a scathing web video, if he dipped in the polls, Gingrich replied, “No. I’ve gotten this far because I’ve stayed totally positive, and I’ve stayed focused on Barack Obama.”
Gingrich has scored points in GOP debates for passing on opportunities to attack rival Republicans, and has even chastised the moderators by suggesting they were trying to provoke fights among friends. He seems to be betting that any candidate who attacks him will in turn come across to Republican voters as typical – and desperate – politicians.
“What’s contributing to [Gongrich’s] strength in the polls is that he’s talking about issues and ideas and avoiding the typical politician’s campaign,” said the adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss internal campaign strategy.
“Voters this year aren’t interested in that,” the adviser continued. “Voters don’t want a typical politician.”
Just a few days ago, however, Gingrich seemed willing to attack Romney. In an interview Monday on CNN, he said attacks by the Democrats on Romney as a flip-flopper on key issues were “legitimate.”
“If you run to the left of Teddy Kennedy, it is trickier than trying to run to the right of Newt Gingrich,” he told CNN’s John King, a reference to Romney’s failed 1994 Senate bid against then-Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
But Gingrich is convinced that Romney is at or near the maximum level of support he can get in a Republican primary or, as he put it in a recent interview with The Washington Post: “I don’t need to try to get his votes.”
Instead, Gingrich wants to appeal to the broader ranks of Republicans who have yet to make up their minds. To that end, he believes he must demonstrate gravitas -- both to contrast himself to others in the field, but also to prove to Republican doubters that he is capable of being a disciplined nominee who would stay focused on issues.
The former House speaker is also trying to make himself a more likeable figure. At debates, he doodles a smiley face on his notes, as a reminder to smile.
In a fundraising e-mail to supporters on Wednesday, Gingrich wrote that he was running “a different kind of campaign.”
“As always, I pledge that every penny contributed to this campaign will be used to advance an honest campaign that the American people can be proud of,” Gingrich wrote. “There will be no :30 attack ads against my friends who are also seeking the Republican nomination; I will focus my criticism on President Obama.”
It’s an ironic strategy for a politician who succeeded in Washington by going after other people’s jugulars. The enduring impression many Americans have of Gingrich is of somebody who’s constantly on the attack against his foes and, indeed, official Washington.
In 1979, when Gingrich was a brand-new House member from Georgia, Gingrich filed ethics charges against then-subcommittee chairman Charles Diggs, a Michigan Democrat, which led to Diggs’ censure. Gingrich also led the assault that took down then-Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) in 1989. Furthermore, he took on leaders of his own party, including then-House Republican leader Robert Michel, as he climbed the ranks to eventually become House speaker in 1995.
But Gingrich himself was reprimanded by the House because of ethics charges in 1996.
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Staff reporter Jason D. Horowitz contributed to this post from Iowa.