Manchester, N.H. -- As Newt Gingrich ratchets up his attacks against Mitt Romney, the one-time "positive campaigner" is attempting to make the case there’s a way to play offense "without going negative."
On Fox & Friends Tuesday morning, Gingrich explained the offensive play against the "Massachusetts moderate" since landing in New Hampshire.
“Governor Romney's people spent $3.5 million in negative ads attacking me and 45 percent of all the ads in Iowa were negative attacks on me,” he said. "You can hardly unilaterally disarm and stand down and let them run over you.”
Gingrich, spreading that message on the ground, said he's followed a new path since his hard knocks in Iowa.
"We’re going tell the truth, we’re going to tell it in a comparative way. We proved in Iowa you cannot survive by being just positive, but it doesn’t mean you have to be negative," he told potential donors at a Monday house party in Dover.
Gingrich told guests that he had considered a “clever ad” in which a nose would get bigger and bigger while a Romney attack ad played (on the trail, Gingrich consistently refers to an ad which was rated by The Washington Post as "four Pinocchios," or containing "significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions").
But, Gingrich said, his team decided "that would be wrong. It didn’t fit what we do stylistically. I think this is big election about big ideas."
At his next stop in Manchester, however, Gingrich bared his teeth when he questioned Romney’s record at Bain Capital amid reports the company made millions in profits by taking apart companies and firing workers.
"Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money? Or is that, in fact, somehow a little bit of a flawed system? And so I do draw a distinction between looting a company, leaving behind broken families, and broken neighborhoods and the leaving a factory that should be there?"
Drawing a Pinocchio? Unfair. Asking if Romney ruined lives for corporate profit? Fair.
Already Gingrich’s offensive plays have some critics calling foul, including the Club for Growth, which called on the candidate to apologize to Romney.
"There are a number of issues for Mitt Romney's Republican opponents to attack him for, but attacking him for making investments in companies to create a profit for his investors is just wrong," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.
Because of the efforts of Bain Capital, major companies like Staples, Domino’s Pizza, and the Sports Authority now employ thousands of people and have created billions in wealth in the private economy. Attacking Governor Romney for participating in free-market capitalism is just beyond the pale for any purported 'Reagan Conservative,'" he said.
Starting Wednesday, pro-Gingrich SuperPAC "Winning the Future" will be running a 27-minute film and ads in South Carolina, questioning Romney’s Bain record.
Asked about the new ads, Gingirch predicted that "at some point in the next week or 10 days (Romney is) going to have to have a press conference and just answer a whole lot of questions. And then people will decide whether the film's accurate or inaccurate, and I would hope if he has good, convincing answers that they would modify the film.
"My goal is to have clean, honest, fact-based campaigns," he said.
The Gingrich campaign has also rolled out two new websites this week -- StopRomneysPiousBaloney.com andRomneyTaxes.com.
But amid Gingrich’s blitzes against Romney for "leaving behind broken families" and “taxing the blind” (citing a proposal by Romney to balance the Massachusetts state budget in 2007 in part with a $10 fee for a certificate of blindness. The fee was approved by lawmakers and later repealed), it’s unclear how long Gingrich can convincingly say he’s not going negative while continuing to assail the frontrunner.
In the closing days of his campaign in Iowa, when he was being steamrolled by attack ads, Gingrich asked caucusgoers to prove to the rest of the country that negative campaigning didn’t work, only to finish in a dismal fourth place.
"This is not my first preference on how to run the campaign," Gingrich told reporters Monday. "As you know, I was having a great time being totally positive, talking about big ideas and big solutions and I would be glad to go back to that."