12/10/2011 03:04 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2012

Newtonian Motion: Action Begets Flawed Reaction

Mitt Romney sure doesn't think Newt Gingrich is a "flavor of the month." The ex-speaker's Newtonian motion has propelled him into polling leads in all the state polls I've seen except for New Hampshire, and he's closing there. So Gingrich's action has sparked a strenuous reaction.

Which has seen new ads from the official Romney campaign and its no limits "super-PAC" sibling run by his 2008 campaign aides, the unleashing of official campaign surrogate attack dogs led by former Bush I White House chief of staff and New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, Sr., and all too predictable statements from Romney himself that he has nothing to do with any attacks on the latest usurper of his long-standing supposed frontrunner status.

In classic Gingrich fashion, the ex-speaker moved to reclaim the spotlight from such tactical maneuverings by bashing the opponents of Israel, describing Palestinians as "an invented people."

The Romney reaction to a Newt Gingrich ascendancy? He's a better person, family man, married to the same woman for over 40 years, worked with the same company for decades, etc., as seen in Romney's brand new ad. Probably to be expected of a former bishop in the Mormon Church.

Romney's throwing the contents of a kitchen sink at him, and is using too establishmentarian and out of it voices as anti-Gingrich surrogates (John Sununu, Sr. as lead dog?)

Romney had better figure out how to focus on one or two things or else it looks like a flailing attack from the establishment. Or at least the desperate candidate of a would-be establishment.

Sununu's criticism of Gingrich seems grounded in old feuds from over 20 years ago. He actually began by attacking him for supposedly reneging on an agreement to support Bush's move to raise taxes! In 1988, Bush had famously intoned: "Read my lips, no new taxes!" But his lips lied.

Romney has very little time in which to pull Gingrich down, especially without doing himself serious damage as well. He may have to let Gingrich win Iowa (or hope that Ron Paul, who is running at least even with Romney there, wins) and hope to rebound in New Hampshire, but he's upped the ante by playing so heavily in Iowa.

In a quirky sort of way, Gingrich, not Romney, fills the traditional Republican bill for a presidential nominee who is the senior most figure of stature in the field. Plus he has the fire and antagonism to thrill the angry far right base.

Gingrich created the Contract With America, both the theme and the organization, which shattered the New Deal coalition which had held the House majority for 40 years.

In contrast, Romney's accomplishments, or those of any other Republican, are not nearly so significant.

Romney's best accomplishment, saving the Winter Olympics in Utah in 2002, shows him to be a capable manager but there's far more to leadership than management. And in any event, as big on sport as I am, it's just a Winter Olympics.

Romney's other two major accomplishments, creating the basis for Obamacare in Massachusetts and being a pioneering leveraged buyout artist, are extremely problematic. The former in the Republican primaries, the latter in any general election (and even for many Republicans who revere product-based entrepreneurs but not money manipulators).

This anti-Newt Gingrich attack ad from the Romney-affiliated "super-PAC" run by his 2008 campaign aides was "inadvertently" published online late Thursday and is said to be a work in progress.

There's a more elaborate way of putting this, but to make a long story short, Romney comes off as a stiff, a hollow man, and his party in the form of its actual voters, not self-styled elites, has been sending the message that it doesn't want to nominate him all year long. That's why he's been the stall candidate, always at a fifth to a quarter of the vote in polls while outright airheads vaulted past him.

And his other problem is an opponent who knows a lot more than he does, is articulate, has real national and geopolitical experience, no matter how controversial it may be, and, perhaps most critically for the Republican base, is a pugnacious and practiced partisan fighter.

But a lot can happen in a few weeks in Iowa, as I pointed out here the other day. In the Gary Hart campaign of 1984, we went from fifth to second in four weeks, changing the equation of the race and setting the stage for Hart's New Hampshire triumph eight days later.

Gingrich, naturally, is well aware of all this.

As I discussed in my "AlterNewt" piece here on the Huffington Post on December 1st, which deals with Gingrich the alternate history/sci-fi novelist, he is a protean intellectual, absolutely in love with scenarios.

At the turn of the millennium, he was a useful member of the Clinton-created U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, a comprehensive review of geostrategy and national security (which warned of major terrorist attacks inside the U.S.), co-chaired by my old friend and boss former Senator Hart, with whom Gingrich co-founded the Congressional Military Reform Caucus.

He knows that a gaffe, a slip, a mere seam can provide an opening and alter the contest. And that debates in Iowa, much more than Romney's hamhanded reaction to his emergence so far, hold the key to his prospects.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...