With Newt Gingrich now surging in the polls, the first Republican presidential candidate to attack him in a paid TV ad isn’t Mitt Romney. Or Rick Perry. Or Michele Bachmann.
Instead, it’s Ron Paul.
The Texas congressman has emerged, arguably, as Gingrich’s most vocal critic -- at least for now -- cutting a web video from last week that was scathingly critical of the former Speaker into a 60-second TV spot for air in Iowa.
"We wanted to ensure this ad reached as many voters as possible, to debunk the myth that the Newt we are seeing on the 2012 campaign trail is the conservative he has been touted to be all along," Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a statement.
Ron Paul criticizes Newt Gingrich of "serial hypocrisy" in a new TV ad.
The ad casts Gingrich as inauthentic and hypocritical on issues like bailouts and health care, and fueled by his lucrative work as a political advocate after leaving Congress.
It's a line of attack that political observers have more likely expected to come from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose campaign has been forced to reckon with the Gingrich surge in the closing weeks before Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses.
But Paul has been especially dogged in his criticism of Gingrich, attacks that may well be serving Romney's needs just as much as Paul's.
"I think that he's getting a free ride. And I've worked with him for a long time. And I think the points I made on the various issues, he's a flip-flopper, so he can hardly be the alternative to Mitt Romney," Paul said last week in New Hampshire.
The libertarian-minded congressman has staked much of his political capital in Iowa, where he made a major push in August's Ames Straw Poll, and finished a close second place. He's peppered the state's airwaves, and emphasized his opposition to abortion rights for the socially conservative caucus-goers in the state.
Gingrich leads, at 26 percent, in Iowa among likely Republican caucus-goers, according to the NBC News/Marist poll conducted over the weekend. He leads Romney at 18 percent, and Paul at 16 percent. A Des Moines Register poll showed similar results: 25 percent for Gingrich, 18 percent for Paul, and 16 percent for Romney.
Romney's campaign had been skittish about making a push in Iowa until recently, when it opened campaign headquarters in the state and launched a round of TV advertisements. Their bet appears to be that, in a splintered primary field, Romney could score well enough in Iowa to win or at least place highly, and carry that momentum into New Hampshire, where he leads in the polls.
But, given Paul's new attacks on Gingrich, it may just end up being the case that, if Romney wins the nomination, he may have Paul to thank.
Romney's leveled some mild criticism of Gingrich, calling him a "lifelong politician," but has otherwise stayed focused on President Obama. He might not have to release that focus on Obama as long as Paul does Romney's dirty work for him; it seems like a classic case where, for Romney, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.
It's not that Romney has escaped criticism from Paul; an ad from the libertarian congressman's campaign last month pilloried Romney along with Herman Cain and Rick Perry. But Paul's campaign has, more often than not, trained its focus on the rotation of candidates who have surged to become the leading alternative to Romney.
He said at an August debate that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was surging at the time, "turns our rule of law on its head" for supporting a policy that would deny due process rights to terror suspects.
And Paul mixed it up at an early September debate with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was then surging in the polls.
"First off, you know, the governor of Texas criticized the governor of Massachusetts for Romneycare, but he wrote a really fancy letter supporting Hillarycare. So we probably ought to ask him about that," he said, channeling what would otherwise be an attack on Romney against Perry. It's just one of many times Paul targeted Perry in that debate.
And during an Oct. 11 debate, amidst the boomlet for Cain, Paul's campaign peppered reporters with opposition research about Cain, calling him a "TARP apologist," and attacking the former Godfather's Pizza CEO's signature 9-9-9 economic plan. In that debate, Paul assailed Cain's preference in economic advisers as "spoken like a true insider."
That isn't to minimize the instances in which Paul has tangled with Romney. Paul has sought to cast Romney as an establishment choice, and a June 5 moneybomb assailed Romney's "liberal record" as governor of Massachusetts.
But as the candidates approach the home stretch of the campaign, the beneficiary of Paul's focus on Gingrich may just be Romney's campaign, which might be spared from having to go intensely negative against Gingrich.