Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took a leaf out of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s debate playbook at Saturday night’s foreign policy debate, declining to attack Mitt Romney to his face at the debate, having done so Friday on the radio.
“Mr. Speaker, you said yesterday Governor Romney was a competent manager but you were unsure if he was capable of changing Washington. Based on his campaign and what you heard tonight, would you care to evaluate Governor Romney’s ability to think outside the box?” Gingrich was asked.
“No,” he replied. “No.”
The question referred to a comment that Gingrich made Friday on Laura Ingraham’s radio show Friday, when he said, “If you want a manager, I think Mitt’s a very competent manager. I think that he tends to manage within whatever he thinks the realities are. So when he was governor of Massachusetts he recognized that 85 percent of the legislature was Democrat and he recognized the state was pretty liberal and he managed accordingly.”
“Then what was the point, sir, of bringing it up yesterday on a national radio show?” Major Garrett, one of the moderators, asked.
“I brought it up yesterday because I was on a national radio show,” Gingrich said. “I think he brings up things because he’s on a national radio show. We’re here talking about why every single one of us is better than Barack Obama.”
“By the way, let me just say, compared to this administration, talking about a friend who is a great business manager, is a good manager, is an enormous improvement over Barack Obama,” he added, to lots of applause.
The moment recalled a very similar one in one of the first presidential debates in New Hampshire, when Pawlenty, after coining the term “Obamneycare” on the Sunday shows, then declined to repeat the attack to Romney’s face.
The moment was seen by many as ending Pawlenty’s campaign because voters wrote him off as wimpy and unable to be a serious contender.
Gingrich, however, appears to have gotten away with the similar maneuver.
“Pawlenty’s entire campaign had defined itself as anti-Romney,” explained Republican consultant Dan Hazelwood. “The moment, then, was Pawlenty’s moment to go toe-to-toe. Gingrich has not defined himself that way.”
Gingrich has also consistently declined to attack the other candidates in the debates, choosing instead to go after President Obama or the debate moderators.