Mitt Romney landed in Florida Sunday with a simple message: Newt Gingrich is a failure and a fraud. And a disgrace. And a hapless showman.
Standing under a brilliant orange Florida sunset, Romney delivered his longest sustained critique of the South Carolina primary winner to date – ticking through a list as if he were reading off Gingrich’s Wikipedia page, and undercutting each item as he got to it.
“Speaker Gingrich has also been a leader,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “He was a leader for four years as speaker of the House. And at the end of four years, it was proven that he was a failed leader and he had to resign in disgrace. I don’t know whether you knew that, he actually resigned after four years, in disgrace.
Romney continued: “He was investigated over an ethics panel and had to make a payment associated with that and then his fellow Republicans, 88 percent of his Republicans voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich. He has not had a record of successful leadership.”
Then Romney got into Gingrich’s post-congressional career.
“Over the last 15 years since he left the House, he talks about great bold movements and ideas,” he told the crowd of several hundred people gathered at a building materials company here. “Well, what’s he been doing for 15 years? He’s been working as a lobbyist, yeah, he’s been working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington.”
To cap the riff, Romney brought it back to Florida’s depressed housing market, and the role Freddie Mac, for which Gingrich worked, played in the real estate crash here. And he renewed his demand that Gingrich release records of the work he did for the housing lender.
“What was his work product there? What was he doing at Freddie Mac? Because Freddie Mac figures in very prominently in the fact that people in Florida have seen home values go down – it’s time to turn that around!”
But he wasn’t done: Romney laid into Gingrich’s bombastic stage presence that’s helped him so much on the stump and in the campaign’s many debates – the next of which is coming up Monday night.
“We’re not choosing a talk show host, all right? We’re choosing a leader, we’re choosing the person who should be the leader of the free world,” Romney said.
Romney kicked off his campaign for Florida’s Jan. 31 primary here at an outdoor rally on the site of a home building materials supply company. The change in tone comes after one of the candidate’s South Carolina drubbing, losing to Gingrich by more than 12 points and 75,000 votes.
Romney’s anti-Gingrich tear was the latest iteration of a change in focus that began in the waning days of the South Carolina contest. No longer is he laser-focused on President Barack Obama and a general election argument. Though Romney’s boilerplate critiques of the president remained in his 15-minute address, the whoops and cheers from the crowd and the energy in Romney voice peaked when he spoke about Gingrich, who handed him a 12-point loss Saturday in South Carolina.
Romney had some help ripping into his again-surging rival. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, in her introduction, referred to Romney as “not arrogant.” She then touted his family life – and though she didn’t mention Gingrich by name, the contrast she was making was hardly subtle.
“Before I became attorney general, I got to know Mitt and Ann Romney,” Bondi said. “And they are good people of the highest integrity and the highest morals and they are a good, strong family.”
That idea was then picked up by Ann Romney, as she made the evening’s lone mention of the criticism Romney faced for refusing to release his tax returns last week – he changed course on “Fox News Sunday” and pledged a Tuesday release for his 2010 returns and an estimate of his 2011 filings.
“I understand Mitt’s going to release his tax forms this week,” she said. “I want to remind you where we know our riches are. Our riches are with our families. It is the American way, and I am proud of my husband and I am proud of all the accomplishments he’s made in his life.”