CONCORD, N.H. — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich displayed two very different sides of himself during a campaign event at a Holiday Inn Wednesday morning.
To a room packed with as many reporters as New Hampshirites, Gingrich waxed professorially about what it means to be an American and the historical origins of American exceptionalism.
But at a media availability following the event in an adjacent room, Gingrich came out swinging against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
In the former speech, the first campaign event for any candidate since the results of the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night, Gingrich spoke about the importance of education and the pernicious influence of what he called America’s “academic elite.”
America, he said, was “at a genuine crossroads,” a claim Gingrich has made repeatedly in his books over several decades. To meet today’s challenges, he said, America needs a “very visionary, very dynamic approach.”
Debuting a not-so-nice new Gingrich at the press event following his generally upbeat presentation, the former House Speaker said his campaign in the Granite State would highlight the differences between a Reagan conservative, which he claimed to be, and a “Massachusetts moderate” such as Mitt Romney.
Gingrich went after Romney for supporting liberal candidates in the past, for his position on abortion while Massachusetts’ governor and his “repudiation” of President Reagan in the 1980s.
Asked by one reporter why he didn’t congratulate Romney for his performance in Iowa like he did former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Gingrich gave a wry smile and said the reporter must be asking a rhetorical question.
“Other than the fact Gov. Romney ran a relentlessly negative campaign of falsehoods … The fact is, three out of four Republicans rejected him,” Gingrich said. “Mitt Romney is a moderate Massachusetts Republican to the left of the vast majority of Republicans.”
Presented with comments that Ron Paul made calling him a “chicken-hawk,” Gingrich returned the volley.
“What he said has about the same amount of accuracy as the newsletters he says he never wrote,” Gingrich said.
He also made a pitch to win the support of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who dropped out of the race in a press conference just moments before Gingrich began the media availability.
“Gov. Romney’s entire strategy was to hold on while the conservative vote split many ways, and continue to look like the strongest because he could aggregate 25 percent,” he said after praising Bachmann.
“But as you gradually narrow it down, it becomes more and more obvious that people go to anybody but Romney. And I think Bachmann’s folks will wind up largely split between Santorum and me, and almost none of them will go to Romney.”
When asked what accounted for the different tone of the two events, Gingrich said one was a talk about education that he was excited to give, while the other was merely a press event.
“The last group was on education and it was a group of students, and I was actually taken about being in a room with people who thought about something beyond competitive politics,” he said.
“I know this is hard sometimes for those of you who specialize in covering the carnage of politics.”