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Does Romney really believe the things he says about Gingrich?

January 24, 2012 | 11:00 am

Romney-GOP DebateAs predicted, Mitt Romney ratcheted up his attacks on Newt Gingrich in Monday’s umpteenth Republican presidential debate, drawing praise from tactics-minded commentators. Calling Gingrich an influence peddler and saying that he resigned as House speaker “in disgrace” is tough stuff, and (temporarily?) altered Romney’s image as a flat and diffident debater.

What it didn’t change -– at least for me –- is the impression that Romney is inauthentic. To put it bluntly: Does he really believe the aspersions he cast on Gingrich? Does he really think they’re disqualifying for the presidency?

I can’t buy it. In the era of attack ads, opposition research and cunning campaign consultants,  most candidates give short shrift to sincerity. Did Hillary Rodham Clinton really think Barack Obama was incapable of responding responsibly to that famous 3 a.m. phone call? Of course not. Is Romney really scandalized by Newt’s contract with Freddie Mac and his Washington insider status? Tell me another one.  (We’ll know Romney’s real view of Beltway insiders if he’s elected and chooses his White House staff.)

Whatever you think of Gingrich, his primary “personal” attacks on Romney -– that he’s insufficiently conservative and a trimmer –- seem sincere. Not that Gingrich isn’t capable of opportunism and flip-flops. He detests Romneycare now, but in 2006 his consulting company said it “has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system.” Still, there’s no doubt that Gingrich thinks Romney is a muddleheaded moderate.  There’s plenty of doubt that Romney considers Gingrich an evil influence peddler.

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 -- Michael McGough

Photo: Mitt Romney gestures during a Republican presidential debate Jan. 23, 2012, at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Paul Sancya / AP Photo

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