In an interesting twist, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is using the same charge directed against him--that he is not a consistent conservative--and applying it to rival Newt Gingrich.
In an interview with the Washington Post published this morning, Romney says, "He has been an extremely unreliable leader in the conservative world--not 16 or 17 years ago but in the last two to three years. And even during the campaign, the number of times he has moved from one spot to another has been remarkable. I think he has shown a level of unreliability as a conservative leader today."
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, cites as an example Gingrich's criticism of a Medicare overhaul plan sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Gingrich has called that plan, which is popular among conservatives, "right-wing social engineering."
Romney also criticizes Gingrich for taping a TV ad in 2008 with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which both of them called for action to limit global warming. Being linked with Pelosi is a high-level offense among many conservatives, who consider her a liberal zealot.
Romney has been damaged by attacks on his own reliability as a conservative, and using that theme against Gingrich is a gamble that could remind voters of Romney's own inconsistencies. It's unclear whether Romney has enough credibility on this issue to have a big impact in undermining his GOP rival.
In the interview, Romney acknowledged the criticism and at one point admitted that he was "wrong" not to sign in 1994 a conservative Contract with America proposed by Gingrich and other conservatives in Congress. Romney was running for the Senate against incumbent Democrat Edward Kennedy in liberal Massachusetts at the time. He lost that race.
But Romney insisted that it is Gingrich who strays far too often from the conservative path.
Romney and Gingrich are expected to tangle again tomorrow night at a GOP candidates' debate in Iowa. The state's nominating caucuses are January 3, and Romney is trying to find a way to slow the ongoing surge by Gingrich, who has become the front-runner in the Republican race.