Newt Gingrich speaks at a campaign event Wednesday in Winnesboro, S.C. (Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty…)
Is the Romney campaign seeing Newt Gingrich in its rearview mirror in South Carolina?
Mitt Romney’s people say no. But how else to explain the conference call the campaign held Wednesday morning with the sole purpose of trashing the former House speaker?
Former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri and ex-Rep. Susan Molinari of New York, both Romney backers who served with Gingrich in the House, blasted him as a wobbly conservative and a bomb-throwing leader more interested in promoting himself than the party. (In case the message of the call was too subtle, the code to get into the tele-conference was “unreliable leader.”)
Gingrich, of course, was humiliatingly dumped as speaker by the GOP following the 1998 congressional midterm elections.
Talent said Gingrich says things “that undermine the conservative movement,” citing Gingrich’s criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan, his opposition to the troop surge in Iraq, and his now-notorious couch klatch with Nancy Pelosi.
Ryan, Talent said, “got a taste of what we lived with in the 1990s.”
“I can only describe his leadership style as chaos,” Molinari said.
“That’s why we removed him as speaker,” Talent said. “He had become the issue.”
“We really have seen this inability when Newt Gingrich is the focus to put the focus on anyone else,” Molinari said, adding that she was dismayed when Gingrich and his campaign compared his failure to secure a spot on the ballot for the Virginia primary to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“It gives one the shudders,” she said.
A few recent polls have shown Gingrich still trailing Romney by double digits in South Carolina, a place where Gingrich needs to do well for his campaign to remain viable. More clarity could come Wednesday afternoon with the release of a new Time/CNN poll tracking South Carolina and Florida.