Newt Gingrich: Talking 'crazy' or 'crazy like a fox'?

Newt Gingrich is 'too crazy' or  'too impulsive' to be president, according to the Romney campaign – and the GOP establishment. Will that tactic work?

(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at a business forum Dec. 8, 2011, in Greenville, S.C.

As the Mitt Romney campaign turns their guns full force on Newt Gingrich, we’re noticing a not-so-subtle subtext in their arguments against him. In essence, they seem to be hinting: this guy is a little crazy.

In a media conference call yesterday, Romney supporter and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu referred to Gingrich’s “irrational behavior,” while former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent called him “not a reliable or trustworthy leader” and accused him of “saying outrageous things that come from nowhere.”

And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, stumping for Romney in Iowa, had this to say (he did not mention Gingrich by name, but the inference is clear):

“When you look at candidates, say: ‘Is this the kind of person who’s always going to make me proud in the Oval Office and [I’ll] never have to worry will embarrass America? That I’ll never have to worry will do something that will just make me ashamed?’” 

Moreover, it’s not just Romney surrogates making this point. Here’s former Gingrich aide Rich Galenin National Journal piece, describing Gingrich’s “erratic” management style:

“He had a new idea every 13 seconds. He just made everyone crazy. There was too much turmoil.”

And Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan calls Gingrich a "human hand grenade." In a searing column today, Noonan writes about how many establishment Republicans are absolutely terrified at the prospect of Gingrich becoming the party nominee:

“What they fear is that [Gingrich] will show just enough discipline over the next few months, just enough focus, to win the nomination. And then, in the fall of 2012, once party leaders have come around and the GOP is fully behind him, he will begin baying at the moon. He will start saying wild things and promising that he may bomb Iran but he may send a special SEAL team in at night to secretly dig Iran up, and fly it to Detroit, where we can keep it under guard, and Detroiters can all get jobs as guards, ‘solving two problems at once.’”

In some ways this line of attack is reminiscent of the “temperament” argument used against Sen. John McCain, that suggested he was too much of a hothead to be trusted with the nuclear codes. 

But while Decoder agrees that Gingrich’s temperament is a potential weak point - voters generally don’t want a president who seems overly impulsive or untrustworthy - all the attacks from the GOP “establishment” could also help him claim the “outsider” mantle in the race. In fact, part of what conservative base seems to be responding to in Gingrich right now is his bombastic, flame-throwing, willing-to-get-in-there-and-shake-things-up style.

And so far, Gingrich has done a good job of refusing to respond to the attacks, while remaining relatively positive, disciplined, and on-message. 

To be sure, voters don’t want “crazy.” But when it comes to Gingrich, they may see it as “crazy like a fox.” And that might not be a bad thing.

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