Once upon a time, the Republican presidential contenders seemed to be mostly on the same page. They agreed on who the real enemies were — as Newt Gingrich explained at a debate in September.
"All of my friends up here are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated," he said. "And all of us are committed as a team — whoever the nominee is, we are all for defeating Barack Obama."
Well, that team seems to have broken up. In the past few days, the contenders have shown themselves to be ready, willing and able to fight each other.
After Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain all took a turn at being the major conservative challenger to Mitt Romney, now it's Gingrich who's at — or near — the top of most of the polls. So on Wednesday, Ron Paul welcomed Gingrich to the big time with a video that questions whether he stands for anything but his wallet.
Gingrich has said he won't hit back at his rivals. Drawing "contrasts," however, seems to be okay, especially when it comes to his chief rival, Romney. There was no scary music or fancy editing — just his phone call a couple of days ago to a South Carolina radio station.
"I don't claim to be the perfect candidate," Gingrich said. "I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anybody else."
More than any of the candidates, Romney has remained above the fray, saving his criticisms for Obama, as if he were already the GOP nominee. But most Republican voters remain unconvinced. Romney's percentage of support has generally been stuck in the high teens to low 20s. And now, he feels Gingrich breathing down his neck — or is it the other way around?
On Fox News, Romney went on the attack, calling Gingrich "a lifelong politician."
"I think you have to have the credibility of understanding how the economy works," Romney continued. "And I do. And that's one reason I'm in this race."
Romney also slammed Gingrich for saying that illegal immigrants who had been in this country for a long time, put down roots and raised a family shouldn't automatically be deported.
"If he's going to do what I believe he's said he was going to do for those people who would be allowed to stay permanently and become citizens, that would be providing for them a form of amnesty," Romney said, knowing that would be anathema to most conservative voters.
'Tis The Season ... For Attacking
"It's time for him to show some teeth," says Republican political analyst Ed Rogers.
He says Romney has to protect his position as a leading candidate.
"And it's time for him to make sure that nobody builds up a head of steam where he really gets behind and has to become so harshly negative that it reflects poorly on him," Rogers adds.
Actually, says Rogers, 'tis the season for all the candidates to show some teeth.
"We're only five weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. ... So it's getting to be time to get undecideds to make a decision," he says. "It's getting to be time to build up yourself and diminish your opponents."
Perry was blunt about his intention to do just that. On Wednesday, he said on Fox & Friends that Americans are looking for an outsider to clean up Washington and that Gingrich and Romney are insiders.
"And we're going to be talking about that and we're going to be talking about it in harsh and strong terms over the course of the next four to five weeks as we get ready for those New Hampshire caucuses," Perry said.
Actually, it's the New Hampshire primary. Iowa's the state with the caucuses. But no doubt one of Perry's rivals will be glad to point out his mistake.
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