Newt Gingrich is fond of quoting Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shall not speak ill of fellow Republicans," and his debate appearances have regularly been characterized by him turning his fire on moderators and the president rather than on his rivals.
Looks like Newt is about to break that Commandment. Since he's broken so many before - most hypocritically, the Seventh - I'm not sure this makes him much more a sinner. But it may make him a more of a factor after this weekend's debates.
In his speech following the Iowa Caucus, the former Speaker made clear his feelings toward Mitt Romney in a tone that made our the race's frontrunner as less a "rival" than an outright "opponent." His tenor was so embittered, so personal, that it was clear it wasn't just about his fourth place finish, but about how battered he'd been by the final two weeks of relentless assaults. While many of us know Gingrich would have declined on his own merits before long, he seems enraged that his popularity sank as the negative advertising - paid for by pro-Romney Super PACs - rose.
So now, he claims his gloves are off, going after Romney aggressively in both weekend debates in anticipation of the New Hampshire Primary. Newt's pathway to victory has never been clear, and as comedian John Fugelsang opined, Gingrich was never running for president, he was running for higher speaking fees. Now, he seems not to be running to secure the nomination, simply to ruin Romney's race.
Good luck, Newt. However, Pandora's Box of corporate money has been opened by the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, and all your rhetoric, offended posture and finger-wagging won't change anything. Romney's own millions are backed by millions more that have been given unfettered access to flood our elections. After all, as Romney notably told a crowd, corporations are people.
Maybe this will turn the former Speaker into an outspoken spokesperson in favor of overturning the Citizens United decision. That would be a more meaningful legacy than becoming irritable spoiler who bloodies Flip-Flop Mitt through the primary and leaves an easier contest for the well-funded incumbent President. Somehow, though, I think that Newt's crusade will remain in the realm of the personal, not the policy. After all, he wants a lobbyist gig to return to when he's finally chased from the primary.
Meanwhile, President Obama's advisors are on the sidelines. They see unemployment numbers go down as the GOP candidates' tempers flair up. They see a House Republican Caucus as divided as Iowa Caucus attendees. And they see Mitt Romney in a draw with Rick Santorum while their own boss is getting things done.
And they've got to be chanting, throughout the weekend debates, "Newt, Newt, Newt." The harder he punches, the less the President has to.