“I am not going to go negative, period,” Newt Gingrich told Iowa voters who had gathered to hear him speak Tuesday at the National Farm Toy Museum in the northeast corner of the state. "How many of you have received enough negative information that you’re now tired of it?” he asked. Some scattered applause and an "oh, yeah" or two could be heard in response. “I’m appealing to the people of Iowa," he explained. "You have a chance in the caucus to send a signal to the whole country that the age of the consultant-driven dishonest negative commercials is over, and the easiest way is to simply refuse to vote for people who run those kind of commercials."
It was a message Gingrich repeated throughout the day: Negative campaign ads would only help Barack Obama, and Gingrich would take no part in it. Complaining about opponents' negative TV ads a week out from the Iowa caucuses may seem like a strange strategy--candidates typically fight fire with fire. But Gingrich seems to be trying to do something to blunt the barrage of negative attack ads that sent his poll numbers plummeting. According to the last four PPP polls in Iowa, Gingrich's net favorable rating has dropped from +31 to +12 to -1 to -17.
Gingrich's closing TV ad in Iowa is indeed positive, and the latest Gingrich super PAC ad simply attacks the "liberal Republican establishment" for running negative, false ads. But there is a catch to Gingrich's positive campaign pledge: It only applies to TV commercials. During TV interviews or townhall meetings, it's apparently open season on his GOP rivals--provided he's invited to attack them first. "My commercials we're about to put up are all positive," Gingrich said at a Rotary event at a Dubuque country club. "But I do reserve the right, if I'm asked, to explain" the truth.
It just so happened that the very first person given a chance to ask Gingrich a question at the event in Dubuque provided Gingrich an opportunity to attack Mitt Romney. "I'm not asking you to go negative," the voter asked Gingrich. "But I'm wondering if you could draw some stark contrasts with Govenor Romney."
"I don't want to be invidious about Governor Romney," Gingrich replied. "As I said, I think he's a very competent manager, a very smart man." And then, more in sadness than in anger, Gingrich obliged the Iowa voter's request to draw sharp contrasts: "To have somebody who was a Massachusetts moderate, who said he did not want to go back to the Reagan-Bush years, who voted as a Democrat for Paul Tsongas in '92, who campaigned to the left of Teddy Kennedy, who has recently while running for governor said, 'I'm really sort of a moderate, pragmatic' guy--to have him run a commercial that questions my conservatism?" Gingrich said, taking a breath. "I've been a conservative my entire life."
During a CNN interview Tuesday afternoon, Gingrich was invited by host Wolf Blitzer to attack Ron Paul. Gingrich lit into Paul for publishing a newsletter that contained conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, and racism. "There will come a morning people won't take him as a serious person," Gingrich said.
Gingrich's attacks on Paul and Romney were quite effective and fair. It's a bit perplexing that he wouldn't want to turn them into TV ads.