Reporting from Des Moines — Newt Gingrich feels beleaguered, sand-blasted, whipsawed, road-killed, bruised, bothered and bewildered.
He has reason to. Most of the seemingly endless flow of outside money into the Iowa caucus race seems to have been dedicated to knocking him from contention. You can’t flip on a television here without seeing Gingrich’s character, record and past statements splashed all over the screen like a bug on a windshield.
On Sunday, the former House speaker sounded his displeasure. "I’ve been Romney-boated," he complained at a campaign stop in Marshalltown, Iowa, a reference to the ad campaign in 2004 that helped sink Democrat John F. Kerry’s presidential campaign launched by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
More galling, no doubt, to Gingrich is that the torrent of negativity seems to have worked. Gingrich has been steadily falling in precaucus polls, and many here won’t be surprised if he finishes fifth behind Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry.
Just a month ago Gingrich was on top of the world, having seemingly ridden to the rescue of those Republicans looking for their Not Romney. Polls showed him with a commanding lead in the early primary states while Romney appeared to have lost his way. After a Dec. 10 debate in South Carolina, the one in which Romney tried to make his infamous $10,000 bet with Perry, Gingrich was acclaimed by some pundits as the almost certain nominee.
Not now. A pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, began bombarding the Iowa airwaves with ads knocking Gingrich over his work for Freddie Mac, his ethics troubles in 1990s and his climate change TV ad with Nancy Pelosi, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. And his numbers began to drop and drop and drop.
According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, 45% of all TV ads in Iowa have been attack ads against Gingrich.
“For a state this size, to spend that number of dollars in negative ads aimed at one candidate is pretty amazing," Gingrich said in Marshalltown, according to CNN. He also, as he has before, accused Romney of trying to buy his way into the nomination.
Gingrich has also undeniably contributed to his own downfall. His record is his record, after all. The Freddie Mac work, the Pelosi ad. They’re not constructs or distortions. But Gingrich’s complaint is remarkable in another regard, in that conservatives have almost unanimously praised the Supreme Court decision that helped invite the creation of super PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and unions and flood the airwaves with ads in the final days before an election.
Gingrich said he made a mistake in not responding to the ads sooner, which was in a way itself ironic because one Restore Our Future ad here details Gingrich repeatedly asserting how he has made mistakes in the past.
“If I could have done anything different, I would have pulled the plug on Romney’s PAC,” Gingrich said Sunday. “I probably should have responded faster and more aggressive than that.”
Former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney supporter, on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said the Romney campaign supports ads that show contrasts among the candidates. "The governor has said he ... doesn't support the idea of the PACs, but he does support the idea of contrasting," Talent said.
Romney himself has responded to Gingrich’s charge about trying to “buy” the election by noting that Gingrich’s campaign has said it took in $10 million during the last quarter of 2011.