Most of the mainstream and conservative media spent Saturday night and Sunday obsessing over Mitt Romney’s $10,000 bet. As my colleague Greg Sargent argues, I think this is loopy, pack journalism. People know he’s rich and Republicans know he’s rich and Republicans generally don’t attack wealth. Romney was trying to make a point in somewhat exaggerated terms (really, is the media inane enough to think Romney wasn’t talking in hyperbole?), but like with some of his jokes, he didn’t hit the right note.
But, as I surmised, the real story of the debate — being played out today and leading up to the next debate — is a revived assault on Newt Gingrich, fueled by some of his more off-putting debate lines. Several candidates have piled onto the lobbyist angle.
And Romney is upping the ante on another point: At a campaign stop, he laid into Gingrich for his attacks on Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan:
Romney slammed Gingrich’s “right-wing engineering” comment, telling the crowd: “Speaker Gingrich said that the Ryan Plan, which was an entitlement reform plan, was ‘right-wing social engineering.’ I was astonished. I said it was a courageous step; that I support it. It’s not identical to my own plan. Mine builds on what he did and I have a little more choice than he had in his. But he took an enormously positive step and almost every Republican congressman — I think three or four exceptions — voted in favor of his plan. And then his reaction on national TV? Oh, it’s right-wing social engineering. I have to tell you Speaker Gingrich was exactly wrong on that and as someone said, he might hit the ground running but not in the same direction I’m going to go.”
He then went on to hit Gingrich as a creature of Washington.
There are a couple of points to keep in mind.
Ryan is so popular and the attack on him by the left for his Medicare reform plan so galling to conservatives that the episode supports the claim that Gingrich is unpredictable and disloyal to conservatives. Because it happened in the current campaign, not in the 1990s, it may have more impact.
Secondly, on both these issues (private sector vs. public sector, Medicare reform vs. Mediscare), Romney has a position more in sync with the base than Gingrich’s. That the right-wing media still doesn’t take that at face value suggests just how tangled up some of the coverage has gotten and how skewed conservative judgment has become in some quarters because of anti-Romney antipathy.
Do voters share that view? Can a more aggressive and lively Romney can shed his image of timidity and draw blood? Stay tuned.