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December 16, 2011

Surprisingly, Romney Allows Others To Do His Attacking For Him

And shockingly, one fellow rival rose again to the occasion.

Michele Bachmann's attacks tend to be effective. But they also seem to cost her support as she tears down a rival -- the party is not liking red-on-red attacks, which partly accounts for Gingrich's rise (he hasn't attacked his rivals much) and also for Romney's persistent good showing (he attacks Rick Perry, but not really anyone else).

Like I said, I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but one conspiracy theory I'm entertaining is one I see a lot in the comments, that Michele Bachmann's real goal is to be Mitt Romney's VP, and she's debuting for the attack dog part of the job.

In the previous debate (the one before last night's), she did make a rare attack on Romney, calling Romney and Gingrich "Newt Romney," and blasting them both for supporting individual mandates.

It occurred to me that that was a sort of attack that actually helps Mitt Romney though-- For if Mitt Romney can establish the predicate that he and Newt both have the same sins of flip-flopping and moderateness, then the it comes down to a question of electability, which many would argue benefits Mitt Romney.

Late in the debate, Bachmann claimed that Newt Gingrich said he would not work to oust Republicans who supported partial-birth abortion. Based on the quizzical look on Newt's face when she said this, I thought she was making it up. But then Newt seemed to concede a bit of it in his answer.

Is it true? Well, I won't play PolitiFact here. But there does seem to be something to the charge.


Gingrich helped quash an effort to deny Republican Party funds to candidates who opposed legislation outlawing so-called partial birth abortions, according to a Jan. 21, 1998, article by the Associated Press.

The Republican National Committee at its winter meeting that year wanted to deny party campaign funds to Republican candidates who opposed banning most late-term, or partial-birth, abortions.

Gingrich addressed the RNC meeting on Jan. 16, 1998, calling for tolerance of candidates who support partial-birth abortion, saying he would campaign for them.

“It’s the voters of America who have a right — in some places they’re going to pick people who are to my right, some places they’re going to pick people who are to my left and in both cases, if they’re the Republican nominee, I am going to actively campaign for them, because when they get to Congress, whether they are a moderate Republican from the northeast, whether they are a very conservative Republican from the south or west, whatever their background.”

The AP reported that Gingrich said he opposed the “barbaric” abortion procedure, and would continue to vote to ban it. But he argued that the resolution was the wrong way to eliminate partial-birth abortions.

In case you think I'm just trying to tear down Gingrich --

Yes, I still support Perry and I continue to think he has the least baggage and the least deviations from orthodoxy.

But I'm not just trying to tear down Gingrich.

The party is in the mood to disqualify candidates based on deviations from mainstream doctrine. So in a case like this, primary voters need to know this. If they come to peace with it, and find that it is not worthy of disqualification, that's fine.

On the other hand, it would be bad if the party nominates someone who it actually can't live with and only discovers this post-nomination.

At around this time in 2007, polls showed that most Republican primary voters thought Rudy Giuliani was pro-life. He wasn't. When the bulk of the party finally found that out, his support cratered. (He was also hurt by a passivity and lack of gravitas in the debates.)

One can imagine a disastrous hypothetical in which the party nominates Giuliani thinking he's pro-life, and then actually turns on its own candidate when they discover he's pro-choice..

Learning about candidates' warts has a useful effect: Innoculation. Either people decide they can live with this or that, or they can't. But they do need to discover if they can or can't before selecting someone.

Personally I get why Gingrich would say this. But I'm a tactically-minded guy. People call me out for supporting mere political position over "principle," and I suppose they're right in the way they mean that.

But the reason I've long kind of liked Newt, and considered him a realistic-minded guy, is he is also a very, very tactically-minded guy.

So I can live with the Tactical Positioning in Support of Political Advantage stuff.

But, based on how so many speak lately -- making very broad and black-and-white statements about principle and such -- I'm not sure a lot of those currently under Newt's banners can live with it. At least, in the past, many of them have made strong pronouncements against this sort of thing.

For the sake of disclosure: I am more on Team Perry now than I was the day before. But if it comes down to Newt vs. Mitt, I'm sort of neutral, but no longer necessarily favoring Mitt. I see the appeal in Newt's tart tongue and quick wits.

I still think that Romney is unacceptable to most of the base. I also think that Newt would be unacceptable to most of the base, if they knew more.

For example, many of Newt's supporters are seniors. I imagine they're more traditionalist about morality and such. Even though they're currently signaling they're okay with Newt's previous adultery, I do wonder if they're really okay with it. Like when details come out (and they will), are they going to say, "Ugh! Repulsive!"?

If they're really okay with it, fine, then we have reached a new normal in politics, and we can proceed.

But -- and this is my worry -- if they are just telling themselves stories to avoid contemplating this...

That's a problem. Because once we have a nominee, we have a nominee. No take-backs.

Drew Responds: Drew writes:

Something to consider on Newt and partial birth abortion: When he was Speaker he twice brought to the floor and personally voted for (scroll down a bit) a bill to ban it. It didn't become law until Bush was willing to sign it but it wasn't due to any lack of support on Newt's part.

I'd say Bachmann's attack is pretty weak.

I responded:

Drew there's no doubt that Gingrich voted to ban partial birth abortion.

But Bachmann's attack was specific: He would not deny funds to, and would in fact campaign on behalf of, Republicans who were themselves partial birth abortion.

That doesn't mean Gingrich is pro-partial birth abortion.

It means what it means. that he will support candidates who are.

A lot of politics comes down to not just your position but how dedicated you are about it. This is obviously an attack on his dedication on the issue.

I think Drew is sort of right, but there is a lot of absolutism in the primary right now.

Why Drew May Be Right: I assume most people find PBA horrific. However, the general stance of any party, and any party leader, since the beginning of parties, is that there is virtually no political position that makes someone a persona non grata.

In other words, what was being asked of Newt was, essentially, "Will you do something about PBA supporters which the party has never done on any other issue?"

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posted by Ace at 01:47 PM

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