In a sign he may be worried about the potential for a strong showing by Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina GOP presidential primary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has released a web ad labeling the former House speaker as "undisciplined" and hosted a media call doubling down on that theme.
Narrating the 30-second spot is former Rep. Susan Molinari, a New York Republican, who served in the GOP leadership team during Gingrich's speakership.
"Newt Gingrich had a leadership style that can only be described as leadership by chaos," she says, as images of a foreboding Gingrich are presented. "A lot of the problems came from sort of the discipline that he lacked in order to get the job done."
In a direct contrast to a web advertisement by Gingrich promoting his electability, Molinari disparages Gingrich's time in GOP leadership.
"The last time Newt Gingrich was the head of the Republican Party as speaker, he became so controversial, he helped re-elect a Democratic president," she says. "I worry about the Republican Party's chances to defeat President Obama if Newt Gingrich is the nominee."
Romney supporters Molinari and former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican from Missouri, who also served in the House under Gingrich, repeated the advertisement's claim that Gingrich is undisciplined and unreliable.
"Yes, he can say exciting things. He also says things which undermine the conservative movement and he says them in outrageous and destructive ways," Talent said, citing Gingrich's critique of a budget proposal drafted by current House GOP leaders as an example. Gingrich called the plan, which is popular among conservatives, "right-wing social engineering."
Molinari sought to distinguish between the "personality differences and traits" of Romney and the former speaker.
"Newt was forced to resign by his own conference; by the same men and women he helped to elect in 1994," she said. "They didn't do it because they were malicious, they didn't do it because they thought there was somebody else out there; they did it because he was no longer the reliable leader that they needed."
The Romney campaign hosted a similar call in early December, when Gingrich was leading the race in many national polls.
Though recent polling has indicated Romney leads in the Palmetto state, Gingrich is coming off from a widely-lauded debate performance on Monday, and the Romney campaign is clearly looking to prevent him from capitalizing on that momentum.
It's also likely Romney wants to shift the narrative away from how much he pays in taxes – something Gingrich and other GOP rivals focused on during the first South Carolina debate – and onto the at-times rocky leadership of the former House speaker.
The candidates are scheduled to take the stage again Thursday before voters weigh in Saturday.
- Read: Gingrich camp sees bounce following debate
- See pictures of the 2012 GOP candidates
- Follow the U.S. News Debate Club on Twitter