By Justin Sink - 01/10/12 09:06 PM EST
Newt Gingrich said his real goal in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary is to hurt Mitt Romney enough to slow the Republican front-runner’s momentum.
“My real goal was to make sure that Romney did not win here by a big enough margin to develop real momentum,” Gingrich said Tuesday in an interview on Fox.
The statement on the day of the New Hampshire primary, which Romney is expected to win handily, drew ire from the right, including from conservative talk radio stalwart Rush Limbaugh.
“I’ve felt all along that Perot never really wanted to win that campaign,” Limbaugh said of Perot’s presidential bid in 1992. “He just wanted to deny reelection of George H.W. Bush in 1992.”
The attack from Limbaugh comes as Gingrich’s support is fading. After leading in polls nationwide and in Iowa, Gingrich finished a disappointing fourth in Iowa and now hopes to make a last-ditch stand in South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary.
Limbaugh described Gingrich as “going Perot.”
He said Perot felt personally slighted while working with George H.W. Bush in the 1980s, and compared the businessman’s anger to that of Gingrich after a series of ads funded by a pro-Romney political action committee derailed his once-leading Iowa campaign.
“So you might say that Newt now has adopted the Perot stance, because he just said it: ‘I’m gonna make sure that Romney doesn’t come out of New Hampshire with any momentum whatsoever,’ and he’s using language that the left uses, and he’s attempting to make hay with this,” Limbaugh said.
In the Fox interview, Gingrich pointed to polls from New Hampshire showing Romney losing strength to say he and other candidates still have a chance.
“If the Suffolk University poll is right, he’s lost 10 points in eight days,” said Gingrich, who added that Romney could lose even more ground by Tuesday night.
He also said Romney is playing on his home turf right now. He called New Hampshire Romney’s third-best state after Utah and Massacusetts, and argued that if Romney can’t get more than a third of the GOP vote there, “I think it’s going to be very hard to figure out a path to get to the nomination.”
Gingrich has targeted Romney ever since a series of attack ads from a pro-Romney political action committee derailed the former Speaker’s Iowa campaign, leading to a disappointing fourth-place finish. On Tuesday, Gingrich debuted a new ad that calls Romney “pro-abortion” and claims the former Massachusetts governor “can’t be trusted.”
Limbaugh argued that Gingrich had adopted the messaging of rival Democrats out of personal spite.
“You know, he’s trying to dredge up and have long-lasting negatives, attach to Romney — this is what’s so unsettling about this — in the same way the left would say it,” Limbaugh said. “You could, after all these bites, say, ‘I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.’”
Ron Paul echoed Limbaugh’s criticism, calling on Gingrich and rival GOP candidates Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum to denounce “gotcha tactics.” He said candidates should not take Romney’s Monday statement about liking “to fire people who provide me services” out of context. Romney was discussing the ability of individuals to switch between healthcare providers when he made the comment, which fed into a storyline advanced by Democrats that he cut jobs at companies bought by his former employer, private equity firm Bain Capital.
“Two important issues that should unite Republicans are a belief in free markets and an understanding that the media often use ‘gotcha’ tactics to discredit us,” Paul said in a statement.
He said Santorum, Huntsman and Gingrich had chosen to play along with the media elites and “exploit a quote taken horribly out of context.”
Gingrich downplayed his criticism of Romney’s time at Bain Capital as anti-capatalist while speaking with Fox.
“I think you have to look at the specific companies we are talking about and you have to ask yourself a very tough-minded question: Is it fair to have a system, is it right, is it the kind of country you want to live in, to have a system where somebody comes in take over your company, take out all the cash and leave behind a wreck, and they go off to a country club having a great time and you go off to the unemployment line,” Gingrich said.
“Now this is not anti-capitalism, I am not for socialism, I am not for government stopping risk-taking, but I am for some sense of fairness that the entrepreneur and the worker have a joint investment in something succeeding.”
He also insisted that he had no personal ill will toward the Republican front-runner.
“I don’t have any personal opinion about Mitt Romney. I don’t know him as a person, we haven’t hung out together,” Gingrich said. “I mean, he’s a competitor — he’s playing the game the way his consultants have told him he ought to play it.”
But Limbaugh was less than convinced Tuesday, comparing Gingrich’s message to that of Occupy Wall Street. The criticism from the popular radio host could be particularly damaging to the former Speaker, who is hoping to position himself as the conservative alternative to the more centrist Romney.
— This story was posted at 1:14 p.m. and last updated at 4:06 p.m.