That’s what former President George W. Bush advisor Matt Dowd told me this morning when we were discussing the change in strategy in both Romney’s and Gingrich’s presidential campaigns.
Yesterday’s back and forth attacks between the Republican rivals were a first. As recently as Saturday’s debate Romney wasn’t willing to go personal. But on Tuesday he called on Gingrich to return the more than $1.6 million he earned from Freddie Mac, and Gingrich fired back accusing Romney of bankrupting companies and laying off employees – an argument similar to the one Ted Kennedy used to defeat Romney in the 1994 Senate race.
“I think Newt needs to stop this and get above this and go back to how he performed in the debates over the course of the Summer and the Fall because that’s when he rose. The more he gets dragged down into this I think the worst for him,” Dowd, an ABC contributor, told me.
But yesterday’s attacks were probably just the beginning, Democratic strategist James Carville said on GMA.
“I’m almost certain that the Romney people and other people are going to roll out more grenades on Speaker Gingrich. I think we’re in about the third inning here between the Iowa caucuses,” he told me. “But look [Gingrich has] been very effective at beating this stuff back and he’s been very effective at counter attacking. But I think we’re going to see a lot more.”
“This shows actually that this is a nomination that everybody in the Republican Party knows is worth having. They know that the president is vulnerable. They know that the president could be beat. And now that you have basically two titans going at it, knowing that whoever gets the Republican nomination has a good shot at going to the White House,” Dowd added.
The problem for Republicans? The negativity could be used against them in the general election.
“You provide fodder for the Democratic National Committee and for President Obama. They don’t have to just say it now they can repeat. They can say ‘Well a Republican said x, y and z about either Mitt Romney or about Newt Gingrich,’” Dowd said.
Watch my conversation with Carville and Dowd on GMA here: