CHARLESTON, SC -- Mitt Romney stuck to form Thursday by maintaining his focus on President Obama amid a tumultuous day in the GOP primary that saw Rick Perry bow out, Newt Gingrich surging and the results of the Iowa caucuses called into question.
Romney did what he usually does, keeping his focus on Obama, while deploying surrogates to question rivals and rolling out a new endorsement to help maintain the air of inevitability he's built around his campaign.
"Where is [President Obama]? He is at Disney World," Romney said. "He is giving a speech today. Guess where is gonna be giving a speech? ... He is giving a speech in Fantasyland. Alright, now think about that. He is going to be in Fantasyland and it is obviously appropriate because he has been living in a sort of fantasy land these last few years. He will be talking about what a great job he is doing on the economy. Has he not been out here? Has he not seen nine-point-nine percent unemployment in South Carolina?"
Romney stuck to a tried-and-tested strategy on a roller coaster ride of a day on the campaign trail that saw Texas Gov. Rick Perry drop out of the campaign and endorse Gingrich, the former speaker of the House: Focus on Obama, roll out a major endorsement, and let his surrogates take on the other Republican candidates.
Romney's rally this morning with volunteers and supporters was delayed slightly, and the candidate delivered his remarks just as Perry's press conference was getting underway. After the rally, Romney was asked to respond to the Texas governor's exit.
"He's a great conservative. A great man," Romney said. "He made a real contribution -- he already has -- to his state and to our country."
Romney did not respond when asked his thoughts on Perry's decision to endorse Gingrich, whom new NBC News/Marist polling shows cutting into Romney's once-sizable lead here in South Carolina.
Joined this morning by a phalanx of top-drawer endorsers of his own, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and the newest member of team Romney, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Romney dinged Gingrich on the speaker's job creation claims during Monday's debate.
"[President Obama] may bump into Speaker Gingrich down there in Fantasyland. I only say that because the speaker was talking about all the jobs that he helped create in the Reagan years. He had been in Congress two years when Reagan came to office. The idea that he was the author of Reaganomics -- not real likely," Romney said. "The idea that people in Washington think that somehow they are responsible after they have been there for two years for creating millions of jobs -- it is the kind of fantasy that happens. If you have been there too long I think you get this mindset that you’re really creating the vitality of the nation."
Romney left the heavy hitting on Gingrich to former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, the pioneer of attacks on Gingrich for the Romney campaign, along with New York Rep. Peter King. They attacked Gingrich's "erratic" behavior as speaker during a conference call with supporters, echoing language Sununu used in early December, when Gingrich first began to rise in the polls. This time, however, it was King who delivered the toughest blow.
"You just go down the list of people who served with him and the overwhelming number. We had ... well over 218 Republicans in the Congress when Newt was the speaker, and you can’t find more than a handful who will come to his defense. And it has nothing to do with ideology, nothing to do with philosophy, it’s all the erratic, self-serving narcissism of Newt,” King said.
Sununu additionally called on Gingrich to release the records of a 1997 ethics investigation into his conduct, which they said could become fodder for President Obama's campaign in a general election.
"We ought to at least wring out the laundry now," Sununu said. "He ought to ask for the release of the complete records of the ethics process and get that out in public so that he doesn’t become a vulnerable candidate if he wins the nomination and doesn’t become vulnerable to an October Surprise."