What to do with the Newt?
That’s the question the Romney campaign and those in its orbit are asking now that the former House speaker has surged into first place in Iowa.
But, the options aren’t all that appealing.
1) Go On The Attack: If Romney goes on the attack he risks a backlash from a GOP electorate that is already lukewarm, at best, about him. A messy fight in Iowa could also threaten Romney’s lead in must-win New Hampshire. In fact, there’s nothing more that the Jon Huntsman camp would like for Christmas than a battle between Gingrich and Romney. It would allow the former ambassador, who is skipping Iowa, the chance to stay above the fray and present himself as a positive alternative.
2) Let the SuperPAC Do The Dirty
Work: So, why doesn’t the pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, take on the heavy lifting? The group, which is not affiliated with the Romney campaign, has millions of dollars in its bank account and can give Romney cover. It’s not Romney going negative, the Romney camp can say, that’s just an independent group that we can’t control.
But, in reality, anything Restore Our Future does is going to be cast by the media and Romney’s opponents as the work of Romney supporters, especially given the overlap between the donors to the SuperPAC and to Romney’s official campaign account.
3) Let Newt be Newt: The longer Gingrich is in the spotlight, the greater the chance that he or his campaign will make mistakes. Combine that with that weight of press scrutiny, and it’s hard to believe that Gingrich will go into the Iowa caucuses without some serious liabilities. But, with less than a month to the caucuses, the wait-and-see game is a risky one, especially since Gingrich is also making strides in New Hampshire.
4) Hope Anonymous Groups Get Active: As our ABC team in Iowa has witnessed first-hand, the anonymous attacks on Gingrich have already begun. Homemade leaflets outlining Gingrich’s support for an individual mandate were stuck on car windshields at a recent event for the former House speaker in Iowa. And ABC’s Shushannah Walshe reported this weekend, an anonymous group called Iowans for Christian Leaders in Government has put together a brutal anti-Gingrich web video. It edits together different interviews with Gingrich and news clips, all talking about his three marriages and extra-marital affairs.
Ultimately, the Romney team still has serious assets: discipline, organization and money. But, with two debates between now and January 3, there’s still plenty of time for the narrative to be upended and rewritten.