ORLANDO, Fla. — An embattled Newt Gingrich, facing poll numbers predicting a sound defeat in the Florida primary Tuesday, is casting himself as an anti-establishment radical.
His hope is that the effort will pay off in battles still to come, even if it does not save him in the Sunshine State.
At his last event before primary day, held in a hotel here, he rallied his supporters by insisting, “We have got to get Washington under control and New York under control so the rest of the country can be liberated.”
The Republican National Convention will take place in Tampa in late August. Gingrich, rather teasingly, noted that Floridians have a senator who “looks awfully good” — a clear reference to Sen. Marco Rubio, who is an early front-runner to be the vice presidential pick of the eventual Republican nominee.
If Gingrich extends the primary fight for months to come, he will need to attract the support of Tea Party supporters as well as those more generally dissatisfied with the status quo. He hopes that those votes will be enough to catapult him past Romney, who — as Gingrich aides never fail to point out — has experienced difficulty in uniting conservatives behind him.
Gingrich has been sounding an anti-establishment trumpet for some time, but his tone on Monday was the sharpest to date.
He referred throughout the day to an interview given by financier George Soros last week in which Soros said there would not be “all that much difference” irrespective of whether Mitt Romney or President Obama won November’s election. Gingrich noted that Soros had said that if the former Speaker won there would be “a big difference” — though he omitted Soros’s description of him as an “extremist conservative.”
Gingrich asserted here that this proved there were “two George Soros candidates: Romney and Obama” this year, and that they stood in stark contrast to “the American people’s candidate” — in other words, himself.
The former Speaker expanded on the argument, his voice rising:
“Soros’s point was reinforced by Goldman Sachs,” he said. “Goldman Sachs has taken billions from the American taxpayer. They had a handpicked candidate in 2008, named Barack Obama. They have a handpicked candidate this year, named Mitt Romney. They want to keep the establishment in charge so when they need our money they can get it once again.”
In language more associated with the left, or with the GOP’s libertarian wing, Gingrich added that this choice between Romney and Obama was emblematic of “the recycling of the establishment that goes on.”
Gingrich is an imperfect messenger for this kind of anti-establishment message. Skeptics note that it is hard to present oneself as an outsider having first risen to the heights of Speaker of the House, and then gone on to a lengthy and lucrative career on K Street.
Pushing back against Gingrich’s efforts, the Romney campaign sent out a news release Monday noting that the 2008 TV ad in which Gingrich appeared beside then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was funded by an environmental group that, in the same year, received a $5 million donation from Soros’s Open Society Institute.
Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, claimed that the attacks from Gingrich were evidence that his campaign was “disintegrating.”
The specifics of the Soros matter aside, however, Gingrich’s effort to paint himself an insurgent might have been helped along by the criticisms that have been leveled against him in recent days by other Republican politicians.
Senior party figures like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) have weighed in against Gingrich, and serving members of Congress including GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Connie Mack (Fla.) and Charlie Bass (N.H.) have shown up at his rallies to pour scorn upon him in interviews with the media.
At one event last Friday, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond confronted Chaffetz in front of TV cameras and insisted that the congressman’s presence was proof “that the establishment sticks together.”
Monday evening, Gingrich referenced pop culture to suggest that he has recovered from bleak situations before — a pre-emptive effort, presumably, to put the best face on a bad primary result.
Recalling the turmoil that enveloped his campaign last summer, when a number of advisers resigned en masse, Gingrich recalled with a smile, “Someone said I was like the Bruce Willis character in “The Sixth Sense”: I was the only guy in the room who didn’t know I was dead.”