Newt Gingrich said Thursday that criticism of Mitt Romney's business record was fair and that he would not back off.
Gingrich, who has come under enormous criticism from the right for attack ads hitting Romney, said it was legitimate to question Romney's record at creating jobs.
Romney says he created 100,000 jobs while at the private equity firm Bain Capital, but critics argue Bain also layed off thousands of workers in restructuring companies it purchased.
"You can't run saying, 'I have two great credentials, my governorship, which you're not allowed to talk about because it's really pretty liberal, and the work I did at Bain Capital, which you're not allowed to talk about because it's an attack on the free market,' " Gingrich said. "That's baloney."
Conservatives have winced at some of Gingrich's attacks, arguing they amount to an affront against free enterprise itself, particularly the principle of "creative desctruction," by which some companies and jobs are destroyed so that others can be created.
But the former House Speaker argued that criticism of Bain's corporate behavior was not tantamount to a critique of the free market or capitalism.
"When you have a circumstance where they made a lot of money and the company went broke, it's legitimate to ask the question … how come the big boys made a bunch of money and they went broke?" Gingrich said. "That's not an attack on capitalism… that's a question about a very particular style of activity involving a very particular person."
Gingrich was pressed about an interaction with a South Carolina voter Wednesday who was critical of Gingrich's strategy in attacking Romney.
Some reports suggested that Gingrich seemed to be backing away from his criticism of Romney during the interaction, but the Gingrich campaign has strongly denied that interpretation.
"I think it's important to notice what he [the South Carolina voter] said. He said the gap between Gov. Romney's record as a moderate or a liberal governor of Massachusetts … and his claim to be a conservative is an even bigger vulnerability than any questions about his business dealings, and I agree with that," Gingrich said.
Gingrich also argued that criticism of Romney's record was fair game.
"We're asking a question about his judgment, his values, the choices he made. Seems to me that's very central to what kind of president he'd be," Gingrich added.
It appears that Gingrich's attacks, while loudly denounced in conservative circles, are having some effect. According to a new poll from Insider Advantage, Romney's lead has slipped to just two points in the Palmetto State.