Rush Limbaugh compares Newt Gingrich's attacks on Mitt Romney with Ross Perot's destructive assault on George H.W. Bush in 1992. It's a thought-provoking comparison.

But here's one thought provoked by the comparison: Deploring the attacks is not enough. Even if Perot was partly motivated by personal spite against Bush, as Rush suggests, Perot was onto something. His focus on the deficit, and his more general critique of an out-of-touch Republican candidate and establishment, got him 19 million votes—despite a ridiculous performance as a candidate.

Indeed, Republicans went on to take over Congress in 1994 in part by adjusting to and incorporating a more “populist” and Perot-like message—in a way consistent with basic conservative principles (and rejecting really bad Perot policies like the attack on free trade). The 1994 GOP majority was basically the Bush and Perot voters reunited. The 2010 GOP majority was anti-Wall Street as well as anti-Washington.

So Romney, if he's to be the nominee, will have to do more than smugly dismiss concerns about aspects of modern finance as simply an assault on free markets. It will be fun for the Romney campaign over the next few days being defended by conservatives and free marketers against Newt's assaults. It was fun in 1992, when I was in the Bush White House, having our allies ridicule arguments, first by Pat Buchanan and then by Perot, as silly and uninformed. It wasn't so much fun losing a few months later.

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