Mitt Romney is moving away from his Mr. Nice Guy persona.
With the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away on January 3 and the New Hampshire primary looming on January 10, the former Massachusetts governor is doing what many Republican strategists say he must do—attack former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a variety of fronts.
That's most likely what Romney will do in the Iowa debate tonight, the last such encounter before the Iowa showdown.
One of Romney's goals appears to be to provoke Gingrich into making the kind of intemperate remarks or over-the-top comments for which he is known.
Gingrich supporters, however, say he is determined to stay on an even keel.
Romney is expected to repeat his critique of Gingrich from the past few days--that the longtime congressman "has been an extremely unreliable leader in the conservative world." Among the examples that Romney cites: Gingrich opposed the Medicare legislation proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as "right-wing social engineering." Also on Romney's bill of particulars: Gingrich appeared in a television ad with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in 2008 calling for action to slow global warming.
Pelosi is considered a left-wing zealot by many on the right, and Gingrich's association with her could be a big liability for him.
In an interview with the New York Times published this morning, Romney portrayed Gingrich not only as insufficiently conservative but also erratic. "Zany is not what we need in a president," he said, adding: "Zany is great in a campaign. It's great on talk radio. It's great in print. It makes for fun reading. But in terms of a president, we need a leader, and a leader needs to be someone who can bring Americans together."
And Romney is hammering Gingrich for taking $1.6 million in payments as a consultant for the controversial lending giant Freddie Mac, and for running up a huge line of credit at Tiffany's.
For many months, Romney had mostly avoided engaging with his GOP rivals and focused on criticizing President Obama. Now he has pivoted to attack mode toward Gingrich, who has surged to front-runner status in the opinion polls.