Pundits can construct any crazy argument, I suppose. Some even suggest it would be better for Mitt Romney to lose in South Carolina and get toughened up in the process. Well, let’s be frank: Winning is always better than losing in politics.

So it’s not surprising that Mitt Romney is stepping up the pace against Newt Gingrich, who had a strong debate outing Monday and has another chance on Thursday. The race has almost certainly tightened, as evidenced by a concerted offensive by the Romney camp against Gingrich

In a pair of new ads, the Romney team goes back to Republicans who served with Gingrich in the House, making the point that he’s a disaster in a leadership position. Here is the first, featuring former Sen. Jim Talent:

A similar ad with former New York congresswoman Susan Molinari is posted as well. Both also held a press conference call to make the case that Gingrich will throw conservatism under the bus (e.g. attacking Rep. Paul Ryan on Medicare and going after private equity companies) to advance himself.

I asked the Romney campaign for its reaction to Gingrich’s latest attacks on Bain (“explotive,” Gingrich dubbed it). Communications director Gail Gitcho replied, “Speaker Gingrich continues to prove that he is an unreliable conservative leader. Newt Gingrich and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are reading from the same talking points. His campaign tactic is interesting to watch, but it’s not going to work.”

Plainly, the name of the game here for Romney is to have voters focus back on Gingrich and his liabilities. This is as critical for Rick Santorum as it is for Romney. With Sarah Palin’s semi-endorsement of Gingrich, a Gingrich win would go a long way toward making Gingrich rather than Santorum the repository for the not-Romney vote. That means going after Gingrich both on policy and character grounds. If Santorum can’t make the case that he is the less controversial and more reliable and stable competitor to go up against Romney and then President Obama, he’ll soon find himself falling back in the pack.

One thing we know about Gingrich: When given room to breath he’ll wow the base with red-hot rhetoric. Once it is about him, however, he resorts to evasion ( he’s a “historian,” not a lobbyist) and becomes the angry, volatile figure that Molinari and Talent recall.

I can’t help but think that the Romney team would much rather face Gingrich than Santorum. Gingrich’s negatives are already sky high and whether it was his personal recklessness in carrying on an affair during the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings or his $300,000 ethics penalty, Gingrich will provide Romney with a wealth of material. With Gingrich, Romney also need not fear an attack on the individual mandate since Gingrich was an early supporter of the idea.

In the Bain attacks we see the worst instincts of Gingrich. Not only is he entirely hypocritical (“Biz leader: Newt ‘fulsomely praised’ private equity two years ago”), but it undermines the idea that Gingrich can beat Romney from the right. In fact, Gingrich is playing class warfare politics, hardly a sign of consistent conservatism.

Certainly, Romney would rather make the battle between himself and a principle challenger about the challenger’s liabilities. And no one has more liabilities than Gingrich.