Romney: Gingrich an ‘Extraordinarily Unreliable’ Conservative

BY Terence Burlij  December 14, 2011 at 7:37 AM EST

Mitt Romney; photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Mitt Romney speaks in Iowa. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Mitt Romney is turning what has been one of his biggest political liabilities — lingering doubts about his consistency on key issues — into a line of attack on his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich.

“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 Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post. “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 also took aim at a 2008 television ad that Gingrich taped with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging the country to take action to address climate change.

> “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.’”

The Romney campaign renewed its attack on this point again Wednesday, releasing a web video titled “Newt and Nancy.”

Still, Romney acknowledged in the Post interview that he had work to do to boost support among conservative Republicans.

“There are some elements that create the impression that I may not be a conservative,” Romney said. “One is being from Massachusetts. The other is a health-care plan that people feel was in some ways a model for what Barack Obama did. . . . People, I think, question those conservative values, and I have to bring them back to my record and, frankly, my writings.”

Romney’s comments come as an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday showed that 70 percent of Republican voters identified themselves as conservative, compared to 26 percent who said they were moderate.

Mark Murray of NBC News breaks down how Gingrich and Romney are perceived by GOP voters:

Fifty-seven percent of Republican primary voters view Gingrich as a conservative, 28 percent see him as a moderate and 10 percent believe he’s liberal.

By comparison, 53 percent of them view Romney as a moderate, 29 percent see him as a conservative and 11 percent believe he’s a liberal.

Those numbers highlight Romney’s main challenge in the race — convincing conservative Republican voters that he’s one of them. Part of Romney’s strategy now appears to be aimed at convincing conservatives that Gingrich should not be their choice, but even if the former Massachusetts governor is successful in that effort, it does not guarantee that those voters will flock to him.

That might not be necessary. If Romney is able to create a situation where the conservative vote is fractured in Iowa among a handful of candidates, then it could leave no one with much momentum heading into New Hampshire, a state where Romney still maintains a lead in the polls, and where independent voters will have more of a say.

MORE FROM THE POLL

In the overall Republican nomination race, Gingrich leads Romney by a 17-point margin, 40 to 23 percent, according to the NBC/Journal poll. The rest of the GOP field includes Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 9 percent, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 8 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 6 percent, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 5 percent and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at 3 percent.

Gingrich’s appeal among Republican primary voters is not matched by his general election standing, however.

President Obama leads the former House speaker by 11 percentage points in a hypothetical matchup, 51 to 40 percent.

The president’s lead over Romney, meanwhile, is a slim two percentage points, 47 to 45 percent.

NBC’s Murray explains:

Gingrich struggles with other important voting blocs — like women (20 percent positive vs. 38 percent negative), independents (16 percent positive vs. 40 percent negative) and suburban residents (25 percent positive vs. 41 percent negative).

By comparison, Romney fares better among women (22 percent positive vs. 31 percent negative), independents (21 percent positive vs. 29 percent negative) and suburban dwellers (29 percent positive vs. 30 percent negative).

While Romney has more work to do with conservative voters, these numbers show that Gingrich also faces some electoral challenges that will have to be addressed if he emerges as the Republican nominee.

COOLING OFF?

Two other surveys released in the last 24 hours show Gingrich’s hold on his front-runner status could be slipping.

A new survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that Gingrich’s lead in Iowa has narrowed to a single percentage point over Ron Paul, 22 to 21 percent. Gingrich’s standing is down five points over the last week, and the poll found his favorability numbers were also headed in the wrong direction.

Romney captures 16 percent, with Bachmann at 9 percent, Perry at 8 percent, Huntsman at 5 percent and Santorum at 1 percent.

A national daily tracking poll released Wednesday by Gallup, meanwhile, showed Gingrich’s support dropping from 37 to 31 percent in its most recent survey. Romney remains in second at 22 percent.

The biggest move upward was for “no opinion,” which went from 14 to 19 percent.

SHUTDOWN REDUX?

The House on Tuesday evening passed a Republican plan to extend the payroll tax cut — one of President Obama’s big priorities for the end of the year — but it also included a provision to force a decision on a controversial oil pipeline project the president would rather avoid until after 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill can’t pass in his chamber. But as of Tuesday night, Reid said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was blocking a vote on that House measure. The complicated congressional chess match means the process for passing an extension of the payroll tax cut, as well as extended unemployment insurance, has reached an impasse.

Add to the mix the accusation from Republicans that Reid is holding up a vote on an omnibus spending bill to fund the government in order to prevent the House from going home after passing its favored version of the payroll tax cut and … well, it’s a mess.

Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper from the Hill provide these details:

The maneuvering added yet another twist in a rapidly closing window for Congress to act on several high-priority issues. Two major year-end pieces of legislation, the payroll tax package and an omnibus spending bill, converged politically as Republicans accused Reid of holding up an agreement on the spending bill until the GOP made concessions on the payroll tax measure.

As the legislative calendar winds down its final days, a $1,000 tax bill for the average family, insurance benefits for the jobless and the operations of the federal government all hang in the balance.

Republican leaders used the House vote to pressure the Senate and Obama, denouncing the president for threatening a veto on a bill that includes two central elements of his jobs plan — the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.

White House press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement Tuesday night denouncing the House bill, which President Obama has threatened to veto:

This Congress needs to do its job and stop the tax hike that’s scheduled to affect 160 million Americans in 18 days. This is not a time for Washington Republicans to score political points against the President. It’s not a time to refight old ideological battles. And it’s not a time to break last summer’s bipartisan agreement and hurt the middle class by cutting things like education, clean energy, and veterans’ programs without asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.

Berman and Hooper highlight what Republicans added to their bill to attract conservatives who might have been skeptical of the need for the payroll tax cut extension:

Highlighting the confrontation with Obama over the Keystone pipeline, (House Speaker) Boehner has been able to win over conservatives who were initially opposed to the president’s push to extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits. In addition to the Keystone provision, Republicans included measures delaying environmental regulations, limiting the duration of jobless benefits and restricting benefits for illegal immigrants, among other sweeteners. They proposed to offset the cost of the bill in part by extending a federal-worker pay freeze and reducing certain Medicare benefits for the wealthy.

On top of all of this, the government is again scheduled to run out of funding authorization on Dec 16. A deal on funding major portions of the government was reported to have been at hand, but the payroll extension politics has put that in jeopardy.

Meredith Shiner and Daniel Newhauser report how Congress might proceed on passing the government funding bill — but the path is uncertain.

Democrats and Republicans were in dispute Tuesday over whether the appropriations package even had been completed, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying all that is missing “is the signatures” and Democrats maintain there are still several sticking points. Regardless of the level of disagreement, the very public move to use the appropriations legislation as a negotiating tool created serious frustrations across chambers and parties.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said Democrats reneged on the deal at the eleventh hour.

“It’s settled. The big four were ready [Monday] night to file the bill,” the Kentucky Republican said, referring to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Appropriations panels. “Then the word came that Sen. Reid had put a hold on our bill, that the Senate conferees would not sign the report.”

The holdup also created more uncertainty as to how Congress will finish its work as the year comes to a close. Senate Democrats on Tuesday discussed bringing the House GOP’s extenders bill up for a vote in short order to show it could not pass the Senate. Doing so would enable the principals to begin negotiations on “the real endgame,” according to an aide.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama delivers remarks to troops returning from Iraq at Fort Bragg, N.C., at 11:55 a.m.

  • Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum attend the screening of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s documentary, “The Gift of Life,” in Des Moines, Iowa, at 8 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum’s other Iowa campaign events include addressing the Westside Conservative Breakfast Club in Urbandale at 8:15 a.m., speaking to Nationwide employees in Des Moines at 10 a.m., visiting Pioneer Hi-Bred in Johnston at 1:15 p.m. and hosting a Christmas Party for supporters in Urbandale at 6:30 p.m.

  • Rick Perry’s Iowa schedule includes a town hall in Council Bluffs at 2 p.m., a campaign stop in Harlan at 4:15 p.m. and a meet-and-greet in Denison at 6 p.m.

  • Ron Paul holds a town hall in Derry, N.H., at 7 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.