Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has vowed to do everything he can to torpedo Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire and South Carolina. He wants revenge for the negative ads that Romney forces heaped on Gingrich in Iowa and that led to his dismal fourth-place finish in the GOP caucuses.
Gingrich, of course, was no slouch at vilifying Democrats during his rise to power back in the mid-1990s, when he urged Republicans to define their opponents as “permissive,” “pathetic,” and “traitors.” Now, the indignant former lawmaker is complaining that he was slimed by $3.5 million in TV ads aired in Iowa by a pro-Romney Super PAC. The “gotcha” style ads reminded voters that Gingrich had been fined by Congress for ethics violations and that, as a high priced Washington political consultant, he has “more baggage than the airlines.”
Gingrich has called Romney a “liar,” a tepid politician, and a moderate masquerading as a conservative who should be ashamed of himself for allowing such dishonest ads to be aired. “He’s not a conservative,” Gingrich said last week. “It’s a joke for him to call himself a conservative. It’s a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit.”
The Gingrich-Romney spat is shaping up as a pretty good political blood feud – although for now it doesn’t seem to be slowing down Romney in New Hampshire or South Carolina – nor is it likely to end up in the pantheon of political feuds.
“It depends on whether either one becomes president--and whether this is just phase one of the feud or the entire package.” says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political analyst. “If this is all there is, Romney-Gingrich will rate relatively low compared to the others. Then again, I want to see whether Newt goes nuclear, as he is capable of doing. A highly memorable video clip [on the order of Gov. Rick Perry’s "oops" moment) would elevate it.”
For sure, there have been plenty of other nastier or more momentous fueds over the decades that have become part of American political lore.
One good one flared up four years ago, and involved Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who currently is surging in the GOP presidential campaign.
Back then, Santorum endorsed Romney over McCain for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, even though Santorum had served with McCain for 12 years in the Senate. Making matters worse, Santorum recorded campaign robocalls saying that McCain, a highly decorated Vietnam War era pilot and prisoner of war, lacked the “temperament and leadership ability” to be president. McCain went on to win the nomination, but he never forgot the slight.
Last week, McCain got his revenge by endorsing Romney over Santorum for the 2012 GOP nomination and blasting Santorum for going after hundreds of millions of dollars of earmarks and pork barrel spending for Pennsylvania while in the Senate.
During a campaign swing Friday with Romney through South Carolina, McCain, declared, "Earmarks are a gateway to corruption . . . . When Rick Santorum sponsored earmark after earmark, I went down to the floor and fought against those. ... I guarantee you [Romney] will fight against it time after time after time, and we will stop the waste."
Here are a few other classic political blood feuds that far eclips the Romney-Gingrich clash:
- President John F. Kennedy vs. President Richard M. Nixon: Having come to the House in the same year (1946), they eyed each other with respect but suspicion for many years, according to Sabato, who is writing a book on JFK. They almost ran against each other for Vice President in 1956, and then competed for president in 1960. Then Kennedy spent inordinate time and effort to defeat Nixon's comeback in California in 1962. His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, may have been on track to run against Nixon in 1968. Robert’s brother, Edward M. Kennedy, was Nixon's obsession for his first White House term, convinced that Ted would run against him in 1972. Ted returned the favor by encouraging the Watergate investigation at every turn.
- President Jimmy Carter vs. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass: Talk about lingering hard feelings. Carter has never forgiven Kennedy for barely lifting a finger to reelect him after having weakened the Democratic president while challenging him in 1980. Kennedy actually seemed delighted privately that Carter was soundly defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980.
At the New York Democratic Convention, one of the ugliest ever, the two political rivals clashed when Kennedy refused to concede defeat, even though Carter had more than half the delegates. On the final night of the convention, Kennedy refused to join hands with Carter on the Madison Square Garden stage until Carter had practically chased him across the platform. In one of his most famous speeches, Kennedy told his loyal supporters, "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."
Even after Kennedy’s death from a malignant brain tumor in August 2009, Carter publicly blamed Kennedy for blocking Carter’s own health care bill. In a September 2010 interview with “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, Carter said, “The fact is we would have had comprehensive health care now, had it not been for Ted Kennedy’s deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed.”
- President George H.W. Bush and Newt Gingrich: Bush won the presidency in 1988 after declaring, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” But by August of 1990, amid a tough recession and a savings and loan crisis, he had cut a budget deal with congressional Democratic and Republican leaders aimed at reducing the deficit that included new taxes.
But as Bush and the budget negotiators prepared to go out into the Rose Garden to unveil the deal, Gingrich, then a powerful No. 3 House Republican leader, slipped out the White House and returned to the Capitol, for a meeting of the House Republican whips.
Gingrich says he felt he had given the Bush White House ample warning that he wouldn’t go along with the deal, and once he outlined the agreement to the GOP whips, they broke 3 to 1 against it. With Gingrich working against the plan that fall, it went down to defeat, 179 to 254, on Oct. 5. Later, the Democrats who controlled both chambers put together and passed a package more to their liking.
- Gingrich had little more than contempt for Bush, whom he considered a far weaker, much more inferior version of Ronald Reagan. His success in blowing up the original budget agreement marked the beginning of a conservative revolution in the House that ultimately catapulted Gingrich into the speakership in 1994. The conservative backlash against Bush also contributed to his defeat at the hands of Democrat Bill Clinton in November 1992.
Bush made it clear last month -- while endorsing Romney over Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination -- that “I’m not [Gingrich’s] biggest advocate.”
I had a conflict with him at one point,” Bush said in recalling Gingrich’s disappearing act at the White House in 1990. “He was there, right outside the Oval Office. I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders. The plan was, we were all going to walk out into the Rose Garden and announce this deal. Newt was right there. Got ready to go out in the Rose Garden, and I said, ‘Where’s Gingrich?’ Went up to Capitol Hill. He was here a minute ago. Went up there and started lobbying against the thing.”
Bush added, “He told me one time later on, he said, ‘This is the most difficult thing I ever had to do.’ I said, ‘I didn’t like it much myself, Newt.’ ”
Note to readers: Please use the comments section to add to this list of memorable political blood feuds.