Newt Gingrich, who is waning in the polls, yesterday lashed out at the "old establishment" for trying to block his path to the Republican nomination and accused his main rival, Mitt Romney, of using his cash-rich campaign to "carpet bomb" him into oblivion.
Two days before the primary here in Florida, Mr Gingrich is playing scrappy insurgent pitting against the old guard. It is a strategy that has glaring contradictions – Mr Gingrich as a Washington outsider is a bit absurd – but it taps directly into Mr Romney's weaknesses: that he is still seen by many as a dull, status quo elitist who has more money than empathy.
"Governor Romney has the ability to raise an amazing amount of money out of Wall Street from Goldman Sachs to all the major banks. And he has a basic policy of carpet bombing the opponent," the former House speaker said yesterday. Mr Romney is outspending him 3-to-1 in TV and radio advertising here.
Mr Gingrich stuck with the theme as he made the ritual tour of Sunday-morning political talk shows. "I don't know how you debate a person with civility if they're prepared to say things that are just plain factually false," he said during his appearances. "I think the Republican establishment believes it's OK to say and do virtually anything to stop a genuine insurgency from winning because they are very afraid of losing control of the old order."
The Romney-Gingrich fight is creating a class schism within the party that echoes the ascent of the anti-establishment Tea Party two years ago. While the leadership is not wild about Mr Romney – not one Republican governor came to his aid after he lost South Carolina – the notion of a Gingrich nomination causes instant nausea.
"I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late," former Senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole wrote in the National Review. "If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices."
But Mr Gingrich has cavalry of his own. Herman Cain, whose own bid was sunk by womanising allegations, endorsed him on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, who built her career tilting at the Republican establishment in Alaska, stopped just short of an endorsement.
"You've got to rage against the machine … to defend our republic and save what is good and secure and prosperous about our nation," Ms Palin said. "We need somebody who is engaged in sudden and relentless reform and is not afraid to shake up the establishment. So, if for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt, annoy a liberal, vote Newt."
Still, the former speaker looks to be heading for a crash on Tuesday. A Marist poll gives Mr Romney a 15-point lead with former Senator Rick Santorum and libertarian Ron Paul trailing behind them. Looking forward, Mr Romney is favoured to gain momentum beginning with a likely win next weekend in Nevada caucuses.
But Mr Gingrich vowed at the weekend to stick with it for the long haul whatever the Florida result. At a rally here in a church in Winter Park, Mr Gingrich won rowdy standing ovations with a succession of rabble-rousing conservative bromides including pledges to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to make English the official language of government and further to challenge the freedom of women to choose. And he vowed to get started even before his inauguration if he is elected president.
"By the time Barack Obama has landed in Chicago we will have deconstructed 40 per cent of his programme," he declared. That would include an assault on his universal healthcare reforms. "This is the most important election of your lifetime. We have to get it right to defeat President Obama."
Mr Gingrich is also being hurt by the continuing presence in the race of Mr Santorum, who appeals to Christian conservatives especially, and who has seen a small bounce in polling numbers after two debates last week. But the interventions of Ms Palin and Mr Cain might help ahead of Tuesday's contest.Reuse content