Former Sen. Thompson blasts attacks on Gingrich, says ‘old score-settling' at play

Newt Gingrich-backer former Sen. Fred Thompson pushed back against the damaging attacks from Romney surrogates on Gingrich’s leadership and tenure as House speaker on Sunday.

“There’s some old score-settling going on,” said the former Tennessee senator on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Newt Gingrich had some run-ins with people from his party.”

After a late surge propelled Gingrich to victory in South Carolina, the Romney campaign has showcased numerous lawmakers and members of the GOP establishment who have come out to hammer Gingrich.

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Thompson though said that many of those critics had benefitted from Gingrich’s ideas and leadership.

“A lot of them were holding Newt’s coat when he conceived for a way for Republicans to take over the House,” he said referring to the Gingrich-engineered GOP take over of the House in 1994.

“His personality and leadership skills didn’t seem to be a problem back then,” added Thompson.

Thompson, also pushed back against the volume of Romney attacks in Florida saying they were “way overboard.” Pro-Romney super-PACs have been slamming Gingrich in ads throughout the state. 

Thompson said Romney’s campaign strategy was “trying to play Mr. Nice Guy, until someone gets close to him.”

Gingrich who is trailing by double-digits in two new Florida polls similarly blamed Romney’s “money and the negativity of his campaign” for his slide on Sunday.

Gingrich said Romney had “a basic policy of carpetbombing his opponent.” “He doesn’t try to build up Mitt Romney, he just tries to tear down whoever he’s running against,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

Romney surrogate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) however defended the criticism of Gingrich’s speakership in an appearance alongside Thompson on Meet the Press.

“We had some rather unpleasant experiences with Newt Gingrich,” said McCain of his time spent serving with him in Congress. 

McCain pointed to Gingrich’s support for a 1995 federal government shutdown as disastrous to the GOP. “The American people rejected the idea of us shutting down the government.” McCain said that then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) had to stand up to Gingrich to end the shutdown.

McCain also leveled harsh criticism at Gingrich’s spending record as a lawmaker saying that his problems “with Newt have been over earmark spending.” “He turned them into an art form,” said McCain.

Both McCain and Thompson though agreed that regardless of who won the nomination the party would unify behind the eventual candidate. “You have to be sure what the objective is and that’s victory in November,” said McCain.